The photo is cropped from a 2004 National Night Out photo I took of him.
[Full disclosure: He contracted with me to help him get his blog started back in the summer of 2004.]
I’ve included the text of his post here to make it easier to facilitate discussion about it since he does not have comments enabled on his blog. If anyone does want to contact him directly, use his Contact form.
Echoing Ross’ and Tracy’s call for ‘more light, less heat,’ I’d really like to have any discussion on this thread be A) extremely civil; and B) inquiry-based in tone — which means, instead of exchanging charges and countercharges, we all try to make our comments with a genuine desire to understand and explain.
I’ve had a number of inquiries in reference to recent statements both on websites and other media sources that I guess should be addressed. I’ll be out of circulation for a while so I will try to address them before the first part of next week.
I’ll remind you the views here are mine only. This site is funded by me and I do it on my own time.
1. A Locally Grown podcast that hosted Ward 2 Council Member Scott Davis made several comments about my absence. Scott mentions he can’t discuss the personnel matters between myself and the Northfield City Administrator. Since council members are constrained by statutes, I will clarify the situation. I took a medical leave. I’m not aware of any other contributing circumstance outside the advice of medical care providers of which Scott would be referring. I knew in June there was a recommendation by medical providers to take time off but I was concerned that it would not be in the best interest of the City to leave at that time in the middle of the hiring of two captains and two police officers. Ultimately, I had no choice. The timing probably looks suspect but those are the facts.
I was a bit concerned that Scott’s comments might give the impression of some sort of rift between myself and other city officials. I do not feel this is the case. There was mention of the investigation of the city administrator during that conversation. Perhaps that is what Scott was alluding to. If that is the case, it is not so much a personnel matter as a one of privacy of an ongoing investigation. As a licensed police officer in Minnesota and a chief law enforcement officer, I have a statutory obligation to see that citizen complaints or reports of possible criminal conduct are investigated. A person who is not a licensed peace officer cannot investigate a criminal complaint in the same manner and lacks the jurisdictional authority to do so. There is a statute specifically prohibiting an unlicensed individual from conducting a police investigation.
I would submit it would be unfair to subordinate staff to expect them to take care of this type of activity when involved a high profile person or official in the community. The matter cannot be turned over to another jurisdiction or prosecutor until at least substantiated. At some point once the investigation is completed, it will be public data. This includes even informing them of the complaint or investigation. I am certainly under no obligation to notify elected officials, city employees or even prosecutors until a determination is made.
Scott also mentioned not really knowing what was going on with respect to my leave or situation. I’ve always been accessible to council members. To date, two of the seven members of the mayor and council have called to inquire how I was doing and asked a number of questions that I was happy to provide them. I would encourage the others to feel free to call me. My name is in the book and I’ve got this blog email to respond as well.
2. The discussion also mentioned questions by Curt Benson during the same program. Mr. Benson has been an outspoken critic of me on the Locally Grown site recently. I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to Mr. Benson. I don’t believe Mr. Benson has ever made an attempt to contact me. Unfortunately, some of his assumptions are not correct. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and I respect his. If he feels I should be removed as the Police Chief in Northfield, he can seek a recommendation from the city administrator and a majority vote of the council to remove me. He gives the impression he has spoken with members of my department. Since I’ve not been there, I’m not privy to what is happening since I’ve not been contacted by any member of the department since my departure. I would hope that anyone who is concerned about issues would be willing to get both sides of an issue before making comments that may not be accurate in a form of media that perpetuates itself forever and can potentially cause irreparable harm to the subject of the discussion.
3. In the intro of the same above podcast Tracy Davis and Griff Wigley have some fun about how a recent Strib article didn’t mention Heroin or as they stated “Harry the Horse” or where to “pick up their Oxy Ccontyn . It’s unfortunate that folks continue to make light of a very serious substance abuse. The fact that the availability of the drug continues is not a glowing item of conversation to be shared throughout the airwaves.
4. While on the subject of Locally Grown, an early post by Griff Wigley states that I could not prove the “numbers” presented at the July press conference. Griff never asked me whether I could or could not. He suggested I should be using my blog or provide him with information to “defend” myself. I have nothing to defend. I’ve done nothing wrong and out of respect to the numbers of individuals who don’t have computers or don’t frequent websites, I’ve usually provided my information through more conventional news outlets. In this case, I can put the information out there, knowing that my blog is reviewed by most media outlets in the area.
I must assume that Griff found that information elsewhere. The reality is that the information I used was obtained from drug informants, from a treatment person and drug investigators. I worked with then Sergeant Schroeder and verified several times that the information was correct and was informed by Captain Schroeder it was. I took the unusual step of having a local news reporter sit in on an interview conducted by Captain Schroeder and a former drug user. Most of the content from Captain Schroeder’s presentation at the press conference came from that interview. Susie Rook’s Northfield News article was an accurate reflection of that interview.
5. In another post Griff said I was on an indefinite leave of absence. This isn’t correct. I’m on medical leave. I’ve always been on medical leave. Nothing about the disclosure of the heroin issue or anything else caused me to leave. As previously mentioned, it was health-related. The city administrator chose to announce the matter at the joint school board and city council meeting and by memo. Perception is everything. Perhaps the city could not disclose it was medical leave but I can. As a result I received nearly 30 calls from media outlets around the US. I have had television reporters at my home and they even bugged my neighbors at a time that my health concerns were very real, not to mention the serious impact this all had on my son and daughter. I was particularly disturbed by a column written by Strib columnist Nick Coleman who never bothered to call me or try to get to the rest of the story. I will expect Mr. Coleman at some point to apologize and clarify some of the pretty lousy innuendos he threw at me in that column. I’ve got a little bit of journalism experience and I would have had the courtesy to at least try to get my response, even if it was no response at this time. I classify sloppy journalism as information that a reporter or columnist doesn’t vette out her/himself, rather than just carbon information form other sources without specifically citing the sources and allowing the subject to respond. I won’t go any further because my college journalism mentor told me to not pick battles with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper by the roll.
I chose to not join into the feeding frenzy at that time simply to “give my side of the story” most of the media folks said. I released a short message through one of my attorney’s Dave Hvistendahl.
6. I’ve been accused of grandstanding and holding the conference simply to get attention. Department policy says the chief is the public information officer for the department. It is important for a police agency to speak with one voice. In a small department such as Northfield, the chief generally handles all media inquiries, especially a department that has a longstanding history of media missteps. Had I been interested in getting attention, I’d have found much better venues and topics to do so. I knew going into this issue that it would be contentious. I had determined that 8 years of trying to effect change had basically been counterproductive. I’ve had people laugh at the concept of using regional media to send the word out to drug dealers that we are tired of them. I would submit I haven’t heard any alternative other than ignore the problem, or arrest more people That strategy hasn’t worked for the last 80 years and I’m not optimistic it will be any better in the future 80 years. I’m not going to take the easy way out and just hide behind the facade of legalizing everything. It hasn’t worked so well with alcohol given the number alcohol-related deaths and social costs. New ideas and concepts usually meet with mockery and skeptism.
Additionally if I had truly been seeking exposure, I would have accepted the invitations extended by Fox News and 48 hours to go national about the issue. They were more interested in the negative response by the community and schools than the numbers presented. I saw no benefit in that direction and chose the higher road of civil discourse within the community rather than retaliating or attempting to discredit other public officials based on their opinions.
As a side note, I did meet with Northfield School Superintendent Chris Richardson and the Locally Grown Folks back in July for a live KYMN-podcast.
7. Other issues for clarification. We didn’t announce there were 150 to 250 high school students using Heroin. The Star Tribune came up with the high school student angle on that number. I do know that the reporter spoke to a number of younger individuals who said they represented The Key and they were talking to him about drug usage in the school when they were there.
Hazelden also made reference to Northfield High School students but gave no numbers. There are two Hazelden reports for 2007.
The first one is very general and speaks to opiate use in Minnesota.
The second report states “…outside the Twin Cities Metro area, heroin addiction emerged among high school students in Northfield, Minnesota, a college town located about an hour south of the Twin Cities.”
In a previous entry here from yesterday, (paging down a few entries entitled “A Day In the Life of American Adolescents” you will see additional postings of resources that provide some very stark numbers with respect to drug usage.
8. Communication with school officials: I had phoned Dr. Richardson at the Northfield Schools about a week or so before the press conference and mentioned the Hazelden Report and that I would be responding to the issue and wanted some feedback from him via a voice mail. Dr. Richardson never called me back. I released an announcement of a upcoming press conference in the Friday Report released by the city administrator the week before. I didn’t release the content of my statement out of respect to the media and quite frankly to prevent the information being leaked to the press prematurely before I could provide the information to council members the day of the conference which was done by email.
About a month prior, I sent out an email to Dr. Richardson, medical providers, Healthy Community Initiative, Rice County Family Collaborative and a number of individuals of which I knew were stakeholders and let them know I was developing a public awareness project that would kick off in the summer and combine with the theme of National Night Out in an attempt to deal with the heroin problem and the related criminal activity. As time got closer, I let those same folks know I would be holding a press conference to start the process and after that, if they still wished to participate in the planning process, would be welcome. I took this precaution because there is always the chance of an adverse reaction to such an announcement and if that happened, I didn’t want to drag them into the mix since they would be required to respond with new programs and education opportunities which is just what happened. I received a number of inquiries as to if they could attend the press conference but no suggestions or requests for clarification. I would estimate I sent out about 50 emails.
9. It’s always a gamble working with media folks. I truly believe they have the interests of the community and have always found them willing to assist. They did an admirable job in my estimation on this issue. There were very favorable MPR segments and in the St. Cloud newspaper. The distraction was a result of Dr. Richardson’s letter concerned about the numbers used. Again, I never said the numbers reported were solely high school students. Only an individual who sees a school system as the center of the universe would take such exception. If the Strib printed it that way, it is an issue for the reporter and editor. I would be interested to know if anyone actually made the attempt to ask the reporter how he developed the information as he did. All I know is Dr. Richardson seem ok with things at the end of the press conference as he did attend and I spoke to him afterward. It was only after July 4th when he called to say he spent over 30 minutes on a phone with a parent who said they were going to cancel their contract on their home purchase in Northfield as a result of the media coverage did he mention he was concerned about the exposure. He said that he calmed the caller down by reminding her of the slant of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Dr. Richardson asked for the source of our numbers. I told him as we had announced, anecdotally, from drug agents, informants and treatment folks that was provided to me by Captain Roger Schroeder. I told Dr. Richardson we could not give him the names of undercover agents and drug users. I told him I would have Roger Schroeder call him. I learned later that Captain Schroeder did not call Dr. Richardson back. I asked Captain Schroeder to provide me with a memo outlining the events of the collection of information since it appeared to be an issue. I never received that memo.
Additionally, about 40 days prior to the press conference, Sergeant Schroeder called me into his office to say he had had an extraordinary meeting with Sarah Shipply(my apologies if I spelled the name wrong). Ms. Shipply had said she was so concerned about the high number of individuals seeking treatment for heroin and related addiction she had decided it was necessary to make sure the police knew about this. Captain Schroeder and I began to work to intensively and aggressively get investigators involved in the property crimes to attempt to make a difference. I left for medical leave shortly thereafter and don’t know if that documentation ever was completed. Ironically I was not consulted in the draft of the editorial the Dr. Richardson provided to local and regional media (which was his complaint that I didn’t let him review my release), that was quite disturbing from my point of view and unfortunately took the focus off the actual problem onto more of a numbers game.
One could argue that such a strategy is successful from deflecting a larger issue.
I chose not to respond at the time because I saw no reason to continue to bring controversy to an issue that did not focus on the real issue of heroin use in our community and the need for a unified front.
10. Two high-profile break-ins — Lansing Hardware and City Hall Motor Vehicle offices put additional pressure to identify and resolve the increasing volume of criminal activity. The department was strained due to staff shortages with Captain Halverson retiring and several officer positions short due to retirements and officers leaving for other departments shortly after the work schedule was changed in June of 2006 at our department. This was part of the catalyst to come up with a different approach. Many of those critical of the approach I took were equally critical and vocal about the burglaries and home break-ins that were occurring. I was not going to wait until someone stoned up on a drug was confronted by a business owner, resident or police officer and the outcome would result in a death.
12. Getting Permission: The question why I didn’t seek permission to release the information is a good question. In the 8 years I’ve been in Northfield, I’ve never been told it was necessary to ask permission nor have I sought permission to release information that the community has a right to know from a safety standpoint. The administrator my be my supervisor but that position does not drive the responsibility I have to the ultimate source of my accountability…the community. The lives of our youth are too important to wait for a sanitized version to be reached by consensus. We didn’t see any outcry when we announced the arrest of 60 individuals, mostly of Hispanic descent in a cocaine raid several years ago. That made national news and no one seemed too concerned about community image at that time. In fact, we received a good number of “attaboys.
Could it be that the attempt to administer the law in a fair and impartial manner and examine all areas of the community regardless of race or socioeconomic status struck a dissonant chord?
Previous press releases that dealt with sexual predators and stalkers received the same level of attention. The reality is a police chief must have the latitude to provide information as needed. My design was to stop the flow of drugs because investigators were not successful with traditional means and state and federal resources were just not there to help. I was not going to stand by and risk the death of a young adult on my watch simply out of political correctness. The solution is to involve the community and make them aware of what the police knew. Several contributors to blogs have mentioned that our line officers weren’t aware of the press conference. This would be correct. Again, for the reasons given previously, one does not release that information ahead of time. My practice has always been to forward that information to our staff, including my prepared comments the next day. In this case, I gave it to my supervisors and asked that they distribute and share it with staff.
The impression is that I also waited for the city administrator to leave town on a conference to hold the press conference. We held the conference on July 3rd because I know any holiday is a slow news day and that we would get good coverage on the 4th and most people would be home and available to access the media outlets. As stated before, there has never been a need to request permission to run my department. In fact Mr. Roder has stated on numerous occasions that he expects me to run the department. I know that someone opened the city administrator’s email that contained the information the morning of the press conference so I assumed that not hearing anything, there was no concern.
I was also asked why we didn’t only restrict the information to Northfield area news outlets. First, it’s not a good idea to selectively release information. All the major news outlets subscribe to the Northfield News and it’s also on line. Local bloggers also post information available anywhere. Griff Wigley called me earlier in the week to ask if I was going to have a press conference on the Heroin and had previously encouraged me to provide some type of community response to the Hazelden Report. It is my understanding that Griff either called the Strib or they called him regarding the press conference. Just as a reminder, the press conference was called to kick of the heroin awareness and prevention campaign. It’s unfortunate the program fell by the wayside, a casualty of a numbers dispute.
13. Northfield will always be a place of interest to the greater area. As a television reporter told me, Northfield is of great interest to the Twin Cities area because we are viewed as a quaint, “Mayberry” type community so whenever anything happens, it is newsworthy. Our standard of living is good and thanks to the participation of our residents, our crime rate continues to stay below the state average.
When a gang shooting happens or an act of violence as was the case with the local Northfield man who was caught stalking young girls in several communities or the recent raid at a local motel that found a jar of syringes with what was believed to be heroin residue to supply a good number of folks, provided by the proceeds of an armed robbery in Faribault, the media is going to be here.
14. Since 1999 when I worked to have local Northfield Officers trained as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officers) available to the Northfield Public Schools, I was told the program doesn’t work although I was not provided any scientific basis. I offered the program at no cost to the school district. That offer still holds. There are K-12 Dare Programs. I’ve taught every one of them in other communities. Currently trained Northfield Officers would simply require a one or two day refresher to be ready to start.
Prior to Dr. Richardson’s arrival, Captain Schroeder, County Attorney Paul Beaumaster and myself met with school district administrators to relay to them the community inquiries and inquiries from educators in the system itself to use drug dogs in the schools. This stemmed from a prior incident where police had information of a large amount of white label CBD was in a vehicle parked in the high school parking lot. When I called the high school, they said they couldn’t give their permission to bring a dog to search the lot. At that time, state law didn’t require their permission to search a vehicle on a quasi-public lot but by the time we worked out all the logistics, the car was gone. I was told by one administrator that I had to prove to him there was a drug problem in the high school before he would consider it. I tasked drug investigators to provide me that information. Shortly thereafter, informants for our drug agents bought marijuana from an individual in the hallway of the high school across from the Principal’s office on 3 different occasions. I was also told by a school official at that time that if the dog hit on drugs and students were identified with substance abuse problems, they would have to be referred to treatment programs and that the image of drugs in the high school could damage the reputation and hurt future bond levy issues.
Both Captain Schroeder and I were taken back by the manner in which we were treated at the second meeting and gave up on the project.
15. This brings me to the last reference to a blog posting.
Diane Cirksena is a local school board official who has a blog. Her most recent posting refers to the issues recently surrounding city government and states that the city motto should be “cows colleges contentment and consternation.” She goes on to state that the school district is in good shape and will just have to carry on (parapharsing here). She mentions she knows there are not 250 students using heroin in the high school, only a handful. I challenge Ms. Cirksena to provide the same type of scientific methodology that Dr. Richardson feels I should adhere to, to justify her numbers.
Quite frankly, one student in our school system using drugs is one too many. Professional educators should be about the business of educating students. They should not have to focus on stoned out students, ignoring them as one local educator told me because the administration doesn’t want to deal with it. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those in the classroom and am happy they continue to practice their craft despite the challenges in the classroom.
16. Finally, I’ve really appreciated the cards, personal visits and phone calls from people throughout the community and surprisingly throughout the United States. In an article I wrote back in 1998 prior to coming to Northfield for the Community Policing Consortium, I mentioned that Ethics in the 21st Century would demand that police administrators be fearless in their ability to provide members of the community the information they need to stay safe and keep their communities a good place in which to live. That manta is not just something to paint on a squad car or put in a mission statement…it is an ethical and moral imperative that I take very seriously.
So, what prompted me to respond now? It was a combination of watching my kids’ struggle with some pretty mean stuff they have been told, they have read and have witnessed since July. My upcoming surgery has a moderate risk of not being successful. I wouldn’t want to leave the issues for someone else to resolve. It is the content of the many communications from parents who said their kids have received help but unfortunately they didn’t feel comfortable sharing it publically because of the negative responses they have witnessed recently. It is having my daughter find my name on a criminal cop website stating I lied about drug numbers in Northfield. It is a result of the professional and personal damage I’ve experienced as a result of what appears to be a very small group of individuals who I suspect have a completely different agenda than drug prevention.
It is the images of the ghosts of kids I went to police cals on in Nebraska as a street officer who I found dead in an apartment of sniffing super glue, ingesting too many pills and dying alone in a crowd full of friends so stoned they didn’t notice the person had died.
I’ll close this blog with a correspondence I received today that is the type of inspiration the urges me onward regardless where that venue may be.
Comment: First, Gary, I hope your health is improving to the point that you may return to work in the fullest capacity. Northfield really needs you back on the job.
My wife and I heard from a friend of ours about their son who has a drug problem. He is a high school student but no longer in the Northfield public school system. She informs us that the drug problems in this town are real, just as you made public last spring. If only the school administration and other public figures would be proactive about this problem instead of denying its existence and casting aspersions against you, perhaps we could prevent a worsening of this situation.
Our friend also says that she spoke to the police about what she discovered about the drug use in the high school. Today, five months later, the situation continues to fester and spread.
I wish I could report some good news but the school administration continues to act as if nothing is wrong. Perhaps it’s time for the law enforcement agencies in Northfield and Rice County to renew a public education program and bring more attention to ways that families might get help.