Live on KYMN: Chief Smith and Supt. Richardson

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Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith and Northfield Schools Superintendent Chris Richardson will be guests on our Locally Grown radio show today.

Topic? Have you been living under a rock? Wake up and smell the coffee, Mrs. Bueller. You’ll need lots of it to wade thru the 250 comments posted thus far.

We’ll be live on KYMN 1080 AM at 5:30 pm, with the audio/podcast posted here by 10 PM or so. After 50+ episodes, this will be our first live show, and our first taking call-ins.

So if you’d like to ask a question or make a comment on the air today, call


KYMN can handle 3 or 4 callers on hold. Programming Director Jeff Johnson will screen the calls. And if you’d like us to ask a question, attach a comment to this blog post by 5 pm and we’ll consider it.


  1. Curt Benson said:

    I have several questions for Chief Smith.

    Why didn’t Chief Smith consult with any other groups (ie, HCI, Mayor’s Task Force, the school system etc.) that have an interest in dealing with chemical issues and youth prior to formulating and announcing his plan in a statewide press conference?

    Why didn’t the Chief notify parties that one would think are obvious to notify that he was having a press conference until only a few hours before it was held? ie the Supt of the school where the Chief alleges has a couple hundred junkies– found out about the conference 2-1/2 hours prior to its start. Does the chief think the superintendent might be interested to know that there are hundreds of junkies in his schools? Or should the Supt be content to find out about it on TV or on the front page of the Startribune? Did the guys with the TV cameras get more than a 2-1/2 hour notice? The mayor also had only a few hours notice and the chief’s boss, City Administrator Al Roder was out of town on vacation.

    The one part of the Chief’s plan and the reason, I guess, for the splashy press conference was that Smith was announcing to Twin Cities drug dealer’s and fences that their Northfield customers are “burned” and that Police Chief Smith knows who they are and thus they will be scared to deal with the Northfielders and the Chief is going to get them. Is it standard police practice to let suspects know they are close to being caught? Is there any evidence the crooks saw Smith on TV and are now asking for identification and turning away those from Northfield? Could the Chief please comment?

    July 11, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Curt. I’ll try to filter out the hint of sarcasm that I detect in between your lines. 😉

    July 11, 2007
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    To the anonymous poster, ‘former Northfielder.’ I’ve temporarily deleted your post since you didn’t use your real first and last name. Contact me if you’re willing and I’ll put it back. Thanks.

    July 12, 2007
  4. Charlene Hamblin said:

    In support of Curt Benson’s comment (#1), all of Curt’s questions & statements are right on the mark; I have asked myself many of these same questions. Wouldn’t it seem more productive for the Northfield Police to work along *with* the schools, city, mayor, etc. to combat this problem? Instead of approaching the dealers with a press conference scare tactic – why give them a heads-up, shouldn’t they be sought out & arrested, so as not to simply move the problem elsewhere? The way in which the Chief announced Northfield’s heroin dilemma leaves me wondering if future issues will be dealt with in the same manner.

    July 13, 2007
  5. Curt Benson said:

    Thanks Charlene for the positive feedback. There doesn’t seem to be much support on locallygrown for the idea that Smith should be scrutinized, but I think his conduct is an important part of the story.

    We’ve bumped up to the limits of the blogosphere, I’m hoping to see some old school journalism take place now.

    Specifically, I’d like to see an examination of Smith’s record in solving crimes. I think there’s been some 300 burglaries in the last year and one half. (please correct me if I’m wrong) Have there been any arrests? I know some of the victims, they feel the NPD is impotent. How does the NPD compare to other police departments regarding arrest rates?

    Also, I think Smith’s tactic of blustering out warnings to criminals on TV is dubious. After Smith scares away the present batch, will he return to the airwaves with more warnings? How often? Before Smith took to television to scare the big league criminals, should have he practiced by scaring some of the local criminals first? Maybe by arresting one or two of them? (I understand some of them are 17 year old honor students and might be prone to easy scaring.)

    Old School Journalists, could one of you talk to some criminologists and see if Smith’s tactics have any credibility?

    July 13, 2007
  6. Scott Oney said:

    Curt and Charlene:

    Concerning Chief Smith’s habit of running to the media whenever he’s reached a dead end, it may actually be based on techniques that have worked in the past, but in situations not at all like the ones in which he’s tried to apply them. I think the heroin news conference was more an attempt at damage control, though. Some Northfielders have been grumbling about the sale of heroin in town for over a year now, and as it became obvious that the conversation was about to explode on the Internet, I think we saw a last-ditch effort by Chief Smith to control the story and shift blame. Fortunately, it didn’t work.

    The Northfield police have apparently been aware of the heroin problem in town for at least 18 months, but perhaps a good deal longer. We really need to find out exactly what they did know, when they knew it, and why they sat on the information for so long.

    I talked to Al Roder, the city administrator, this past Wednesday (July 11) with some of my general concerns about the failed practices of the Northfield police department. I found him to be a decent guy and very approachable. I think, officially, he would be the first person to go to with any concerns about Chief Smith or the direction taken by the local police department in general. Would anyone be interested in calling a meeting with Mr. Roder to discuss concerns? Perhaps it would be good for people to write up their concerns first. I’ll write up mine and try to post them here in a couple of days. (I’ll try to keep ’em down to one page.)

    July 14, 2007
  7. Charlene Hamblin said:

    Scott & Curt –
    I would definitely be interested in taking part in a meeting with Al Roder, as I think it is important that he be aware of a number of concerns. Please let me know if this becomes a possibility, I’ll begin compiling my list…..
    Thanks much!

    July 14, 2007
  8. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, before we all pile on the chief, it’s time for a little perspective.
    I love blogging, support community blogging and participate in it. But blogging instead of journalism at the front end of this discussion contributed to this controversy. I have tracked this from the beginning in June and the original comments from the Hazeldon researcher were two sentences mentioning anecdotal reports about some heroin use in Northfield. It became two sentences at the end of the Pioneer Press story about the report, which really focused on a decrease in drug use in the Twin Cities. The story had died without notice until Locally Grown took those two sentences and ran them with a photo of someone mainlining and headline suggesting a heroin network based in the high school. The problem with community blogging is that no one checked out the comment, clarified the numbers or put things in perspective by checking use in other communities or statewide before posting, leaving the story to unfold bit by confusing bit. The two sentences were quoted accurately, but without context.
    Griff, you have done a wonderful service by hosting the discussion, and I appreciate it and all the work you do. I’m just noting that getting the facts straight at the beginning would have been a big help. I know your position is that you bring up topics and ask people to chime in. IMHO, that’s the inherent weakness of blogging.
    The Twin Cities media all monitor local blogs for stories and so picked up on the dramatic photo and headline on Locally Grown (built on two sentences) and began calling people here (yet not the Hazeldon researcher). School was out for the summer, so they called the police. They also could have done some calling and put Northfield into perspective, but working shorthanded around a holiday (and after staff cut have left reporters shorthanded all the time), they figured the Northfield story would generate calls from elsewhere and lead to more follow-up stories to feed newscasts for weeks.
    As for holding a press conference, you all are making too much of this. The chief could do interviews with print journalists by phone all day, but television reporters need tape. Rather than tape four or five interviews, the logical step is to have them all come down at once and do a single interview, better known as a press conference. My guess is that he wasn’t so much running to the media but trying to satisfy their requests fairly without giving any one of them an edge in timing. That’s just how the media works. They want to be on the air at the same time, and a press conference is the only way to do that. Should he have called people in town and coordinated his remarks and numbers, of course, but that kind of media savvy comes with practice in crisis management, which thankfully Northfield doesn’t generate.
    It’s the curse of small communities that they don’t have the experience to be extremely careful with their numbers and comments. A general estimate and imprecise terminology — summarized for a 1-minute clip — turns 250 young people using some dangerous drugs at some level into 250 high school students using heroin to the tune of up to $600 a day.
    So, finally the Hazeldon researcher goes on MPR and says she just had a few conversations with people in the business and heard some reports of drug use. And the schools released low numbers because it’s harder to shoot up at school than sip Gatorade spiked with vodka, so schools don’t “catch” many users. And from the probation office’s reports it seems that to get the numbers being bounced around, we must have more honor society students than convicted criminals using heroin. And then we hear that “everyone” in authority has been talking about this for 18 months (while the media was surprised by numbers that seemed to have come without warning). And we are in the same position as the teen-agers, with so much scary information that we don’t know what to believe so many of us don’t believe any of it.
    Do I have concerns about drug use and police performance and school coordination, sure. But let’s not just look for a scapegoat.
    It was interesting but very sad to watch the whole thing unfold. It would be very good if everyone in a position to know would coordinate the numbers and track them over the next few months to determine whether any of this widespread concern translates into any real impact. There are ways to do this (I found them in minutes online.)
    Then the superintendent and mayor and city administrator and chief and Key leaders can call a press conference together and tell other communities what they and local residents have done to make the situation better.

    July 14, 2007
  9. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks for the link, Curt. MPR did a story questioning the numbers as well. It seems everyone is trying to cover their tracks…or something else…right now.
    This is really a classic case study for an intercultural communications course, with people from different backgrounds and mindsets hearing the same information in very different ways. It also is a classic case of a slow summer news cycle and a sexy topic with no hard numbers to verify.
    Look, the chief isn’t that far off, technically speaking. (Although every news story used slightly different numbers and qualifiers, so nothing matches up exactly.) In the MPR story this week, Sarah Shippy, an expert, says she knows 50-60 kids who are actively using heroin now. And she first told the police about this 18 months ago, mentioning about the same number, so we can assume a lot of kids have moved in and out of this group and some have graduated from high school but are still using, etc., etc. And Ms. Shippy says the users have told her there are 150 or more people involved. The superintendent knows about 15 students who have sought treatment, but that doesn’t include dropouts, users who haven’t sought treatment or haven’t been caught, and graduates and former students who are using.
    Now the chief says between 150 and 250 young people are using, and he’s talking about people 16-25, and so he’s probably pretty close at the 150 end, and a little high on the high end, so to speak. And if he was throwing in the Oxycontin users and other addicts, the gap narrows even more.
    Sure the cost figure was too high, but police always see the worst in things. Their whole careers are based on anticipating danger and heading it off, so he’s saying heroin can cost up to $600 or $700 or whatever a day. Sure, and brides can spend up to $20,000 on a wedding dress or a cake, but not many do.
    The phrase “up to” is a seductive, dangerous, and addictive bit of vague accuracy. Make the range broad enough and you’re covered. Journalists aren’t immune to dabbling in its use.
    All I’m saysing is that everyone should have been hearing about this 18 months ago and everyone should have been hearing about the same story. I feel like I’m hearing that old joke where someone calls from vacation to ask how his cat is doing and the cat-sitter says the cat is dead. The caller says the cat-sitter should have broken the news more gently, saying first that the cat was on the roof, that rescue efforts were underway and finally that everyone had tried valiantly, but the cat died.
    Well, we should have heard the kids were playing on the roof before they started falling off, but we can’t change that now. We just need to get more ladders and nets and get busy saving as many as we can, without setting the house on fire to get them down.

    July 14, 2007
  10. Anne Bretts said:

    Drat. Just realized I left out the punchline to the joke above. The caller, stll upset about the death of his cat, asks how Grandma is. The answer: “Grandma is on the roof.”
    This makes my point, in a way. The joke is so old and I’m so familiar with it that it didn’t occur to me that I had left out a key line. It isn’t a problem for others who know the joke, but would be confusing to a person reading it for the first time.

    July 14, 2007
  11. Christine Stanton said:

    I was personally surprised when I saw the results of the survey the HCI Parent Communication Network Newsletter this past January. Unfortunately, I was not aware of that information until the news about heroin use came out. Though the statistics are not specfic about heroin, they are alarming none the less. Here is a link. Click on January 2007.

    Just to make it clear, I am not blaming the HCI for not making this information more available. I realize that many times it takes cooporation and funding to make information available. It sounds like people with knowledge on the subject have been trying to tell us that Northfield has a problem for a while now, but many of us have not been listening. The concern about hurting the “image” of Northfield also seems that it has applied in this situation. I wonder if the Chief of Police would have been put in the situation he was had we listened and reacted with concern earlier.

    Could this newsletter go out to all parents/guardians of Northfield high schoolers via the High School and Middle School newsletters? Could there be a link to this website posted on the school district website other than just the heading of volunteer opportunities? Could the Northfield School District as well as High School and Middle School website(s) have a section dedicated to drug and alchohol prevention and resources? Could the Northfield News include the Parent Prevention Network newsletters (possibly even as a public service announcement at no charge)?

    Nobody likes to hear “bad” news. However, not listening to it will not make it disappear. I like the story that Anne posted about the cat. No matter how the news is broken, it does not change the reality.

    July 15, 2007
  12. Anne Bretts said:

    Christine, that information is part of a statewide report that gets big media coverage every time the numbers are released. There are stats on date rape and a lot of other topics that should make parents and other adults stop and think. Just remember that these numbers aren’t new…alcohol abuse has been around as long alcohol itself. Not blaming you for missing it, but the numbers are well-reported.

    July 15, 2007
  13. Christine Stanton said:

    Thanks for the reply, Anne. Yes, I admit that I usually do not read those things. What was of significance to me is that our numbers were higher than the state average and also Faribault. I think that these numbers would be of particular interest to Northfield parents. As the survey is taken in the school (I believe), it would seem appropriate for the school to report the findings. I looked at the High School newsletters from this past year, and there was no mention of drug or alchohol use, abuse, resources or anything at all. However, I realize that the information could have been cited a previous school year.

    The schools can be a good avenue of communication. As the HCI Parent Communication Network deals specifically with problem facing students and parents, it seems appropriate that the schools help make their information more accessible. As the school also has a drug and alchohol counselor, it would be nice to have reports from that department just like we have from activities, guidance, school nurse, food etc..

    July 15, 2007
  14. Christine Stanton said:

    Here is a link to the statewide overview of the Minnesota Student Survey from 1999.

    If anyone knows of a link to the results broken down by city, let me know.

    Northfield students took the survey again this past spring. Here is a link to the notification from the Northfield School District.

    It will be interesting to see what the new survey reveals.

    Also, I know the HCI does its own survey. Does anyone know if and where these results are published on the web?

    In searching for these results, one concern I have is if kids will be as honest in answering them if they knew they would be more publicized. Hmmm… I have no idea what the answer to that question would be.

    July 16, 2007
  15. Scott Oney said:

    In what follows, I’ve tried to summarize some of my most serious concerns with Chief Smith and the direction taken by the Northfield police department.

    Northfield police investigators were informed at least 18 months ago that a significant number of people in town were using heroin. How did they respond then? If they weren’t having much success getting at the root of the problem after about 6 months, which would bring us up to about a year ago, where did they go for help? Or was a decision made to do nothing?

    Chief Smith takes every opportunity to link the increase in the number of property crimes in town to drug use, and there may well be a connection. But is it exactly as he portrays it? If we had 150 high school kids stealing one laptop or iPod apiece every 3 or 4 weeks, we could understand why the police can’t catch them all. But if we’re really faced with a small group of professional thieves, who no doubt do spend money on drugs, among other things, it wouldn’t be out of line to ask why the police investigation hasn’t shown any good results. Is the chief trying to distract us from asking this question?

    Chief Smith makes frequent pleas for the community’s help in solving crimes. In some situations this is appropriate. For example, if 15 people witness a shooting but nobody remembers anything, it may be a way to shame someone into remembering something. But what are we supposed to do? We’re not cops! The police don’t need our help to run undercover operations or ask for phone records.

    The Northfield police aren’t afraid of being aggressive. It’s not unusual for them to send two or three cars if kids are skating in Bridge Square or if they’re out a few minutes after midnight, so the problem isn’t lack of resources either. Does this policy of coming down hard on kids for doing things that aren’t even illegal in other places, coupled with what appears to be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when more serious crimes are involved, come from the top, or are the guys on the force just out of control? One way or the other, it seems like a real problem in leadership.

    Do these criticisms seem on track? Does anyone have anything to add?

    July 16, 2007
  16. Charlene Hamblin said:

    Scott’s submission (#16) is well said, and I think his questions are *very* much on track; I also agree with the fact that there are some issues with leadership, in this respect. In response to Scott’s comments I’d like to share the following to each from my experiences/observations:
    1) NPD knowledge of heroin problem: On this question I continue to wonder what in the world our local law enforcement has been doing *about* this problem for the last 18 mos., and if the answer is nothing – why the heck not? As a ‘townie,’ I recall a number of different drug-busts taking place in Northfield from the 70’s-90’s; what make’s cracking down on heroin dealers of today any different?
    2) Thefts: What is being done to catch these people? As citizen’s we can secure our homes and vehicles – but what has our local law enforcement been doing; any stat’s available here?
    3) NPD’s aggressiveness: A couple of months ago I called the NPD to report a concern, only to have the concern minimized (by the officer I was speaking with) to the point that by the end of our conversation, I actually apologized to him/her for bothering them with my call. (There’s more to this story, but better left off at this point.) Needless to say this was very frustrating, and left me wondering – what ever happened to “To Protect and to Serve?”

    Last night I attended the meeting at the Key regarding the heroine issue and there were endless wonderful ideas and suggestions for helping the kids, and adults, in Northfield with this problem. I, as a parent of a 14 yr. old myself, am all for coming together to help – but we citizen’s are obviously not a police force, which of course if where the NPD should come in.

    July 17, 2007

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