Chief of Police Gary Smith on indefinite leave of absence

garygsmith100w.jpegThis is the text of an internal email that was circulated to staff at the City of Northfield’s police department this morning at about 9:20.

It was forwarded to me at about 11 am and I’ve made numerous phone calls to city leaders since, attempting to confirm. My co-host, Ross Currier, was able to confirm it via a phone conversation at around 2:45 pm.

The Chief has requested an indefinite leave of absence and it has been granted by the City Administrator. Roger Schroeder has been promoted to Captain, effective immediately. Capt. Schroeder will handle day to day operations of the department. If you have any questions, please see a Supervisor. Any questions regarding the Chief will be handled by the City Administrator.

47 thoughts on “Chief of Police Gary Smith on indefinite leave of absence”

  1. Interesting…. On a somewhat related note, I see the joint meeting between the City Council and School Board discussing recent events is scheduled tonight at 7pm at the City Council Chambers.

    Joint City Council/School Board Meeting
    Northfield City Hall
    July 17, 2007
    7:00 PM

    The primary purpose of this meeting is to engage in an open dialog concerning recent events in the City of Northfield. Below are suggested discussion points.

    1. Discussion of Herion Press Conference
    a. How did we get to where we are today?
    b. What should or could have been done differently?
    c. Is the data correct? If so, was it presented in an accurate manner?
    d. Where do we go from here?

    2. How are the School District and City working together?

    3. How are the School District and City working with other community agencies?

    4. Are there other areas we should b working more closely together?

  2. I have a question, and this really concerns me… This rant is purely my opinion, and I am man enough to stand before the community and express it, and take my lumps for it…

    In High School Journalism class, we were taught to Check our facts, Check our Facts, Check our Facts…

    Well, my concern with the internet and the media these days, is that they are citing blogs as sources.

    Part of an internal memo is posted here, but with no reference, other than we need to trust Griff at his word.

    The Minnesota Monitor then cites LocallyGrownNorthfield as its source, and the spiral suddenly goes out of control.

    Who is checking these sources? Who is citing a press release from the City? Where is the press release from the City on its website?

    It just concerns me that the blogosphere is going to be the end of modern, responsible journalism as we know it.

    Then the print and television media jump all over it, quoting a BLOG of all things as an authouritative source. Did they call the city? Did they call the chief? Did they post a response? No. All I hear on MPR tonight is that a local blog is reporting the demise of the Chief of Police.

    Its the end of intelligent, balanced, responsible, fair media as we know it.

    This whole thing is disappointing. The witch hunt is over, and there will be no further discussion on LGN.org. (I find that timing, frankly, ironic.)

    It makes me wonder what the true mission of all this retoric was?

    I am just wondering why there are so many people yelling “FIRE!” in the virtual movie theater, without checking to see if the smoke is coming from someone rubbing to unrelated facts together very quickly, then calling on all thier friends to blow on it.

    Griff, Tracy, and Ross, no disrespect, but I think that some self examination, and some standards and practices for your site is in order.

    You want to act like citizen journalists, but I am concerned that there is a complete lack of control. Maybe the policy is that there needs to be a two thirds vote before anything is posted from the three of you.

    Remember, the actions of one of you, reflect on you all.

    Your a good site, but this whole thing has gotten way out of hand.

    I’m sorry to see the Chief go under these circumstances. I really hate to see anyone run out of town like this. I think we may be kidding ourselves, to see him return to this position.

    Just my $0.02 here. I am ready to take the flaming responses. I hope that you take the responsible line, and leave a difference of opinion on your site, so that we can all discuss it.

    Regards,
    John Thomas

  3. The media has been way out of line for longer than I care to say.
    In 1987-90, I worked with the major Chicago newspapers and I am here to
    say that they more often than not got the simplest facts wrong. We were
    lucky to have one veteran reporter who actually knew what a fact was and
    how to stick to it.

    Bright

  4. I hope the Chief’s doing ok. As hard as this has been on folks, his news conference triggered a tremendous discussion and debate that would not have happened but for that action by the Chief.

  5. John, I can’t speak for Griff or Ross, but I have absolutely no interest in acting like a citizen journalist.

    I’m not sure I understand the problem with this particular post. Griff heard a rumor from a fairly credible source, tried to verify it, and posted what information he had. If others, who really are journalists, cite locallygrownnorthfield.org as their source, they should also do their own investigation to confirm the available facts.

  6. Good comment Mike Bull:

    I hope the Chief’s doing ok. As hard as this has been on folks, his news conference triggered a tremendous discussion and debate that would not have happened but for that action by the Chief.

    I second those thoughts.

  7. Tracy,

    I am sorry, but in my opinion, you are at this point.

    In many many ways, this site presents itself as a “news source” for Northfield. You folks are in fact citizen journalists… You publish items relating to Northfield in various media formats, including web, podcasting, and commerical radio. Your last live show on KYMN put you into the journalist realm. You were factfinding and reporting on a Northfield issue.

    As such, you and the site should hold at least attempt to hold itself to a higher standard of “journalism”. The days of “We are just a blog” are very much over. It is time to raise the bar on your content.

    Part of this is the fact that I am struggling with the Citizen Journalist concept, as it relates to Civic Journalism (practiced by professionals). Civic or Professional journalists for the most part have to hold themselves to a higher standard of objectivity, and fact checking before an article is released.

    What protections do you have if in fact, you are found wrong on something, and someone turns around and sues for libel?

    Many times this site has released information that is rumor, and in some instances, the rumors released here have been found to be completely without merit.

    I am concern that these rumors, published with only partial confirmation, could do harm to others.

    A simple example (to move away from the “Drug” issue) is, even rumors about potential businesses coming to town, or a potential business building on a lot can have impacts. They can change the market place, or disclose something that a business owner was attempting to keep close-hold.

    Many of the posts can be easily verified by calling City Hall, and verifying the work permit on the property. If your going to go public with something, you need to be right.

    My concern, is that using the excuse of “I’m just a blogger” may not stand up to the test, and the specifics of the proposed Federal Reporter Shield Law (in place in about 30 states) is unclear about blogs and thier role in journalism.

    I am just concerned that the next unconfirmed rumor published without adequate safeguards, may land the three of you in legal trouble at some point. What protections do you have? I am not an attorney, but maybe someone with that expertise can chime in?

    I am going to have to do some more reporting on Citizen Journalism -vs- Civic Journalism, before I continue this on too much more.

    I just want you to be very careful, and be sure you have it 100% right, and confirmed, instead of posting every rumor that his heard in town.

    This issue is going to have far reaching impacts. I would be willing to bet there are already college parents calling St. Olaf and Carelton, and having thier kids switch schools because of the problems Northfield has, percieved or otherwise. How about the Rotary Club and the foriegn exchange student program? Has anyone made some calls, done some fact checking, and published posts about that? I know that you folks try not to wear “your other hats” on this site, but I would be interested in the economic and business impacts of the post, and see them published on your own “official” blogs.

    This topic post will have impacts. No question. They may just not be apparent in the first few weeks after this post.

    We need to come together again, as a community to get this solved. Even if it is one person that needs help. It must be done.

    Thanks for the time. I am just concerned that this whole thing got way out of hand, and could have been handled much better by EVERYONE involved, not just LGN.org.

    Regards,
    -J

  8. John Thomas–

    No need to be sorry as you can have your own opinion.

    PS, On this blog, regarding the serious topic of heroin, I haven’t seen any deliberate attempts to mislead anyone.

  9. I’m getting ready to post a blog entry where we can discuss — all in one place — the performance of Locally Grown in covering the heroin story and any of our other practices related to it.

  10. Gary Smith is not my favorite person, but he is very right about the drug problem in Northfield. What’s sad about all this is that so many people are more worried about Northfield looking bad, then facing reality. I have teenagers and we openly talk about drugs, I also talk with their friends and I believe Gary Smith’s numbers are more accurate then anyone else’s. Bottom line, someone has to pay for airing Northfield’s dirty laundry in public.

  11. Concerned Citizen, I’ve moderated your comment because of your harsh tone. It makes it unlikely that others will want to engage in constructive conversation with you.

    Can you try again?

  12. I cannot see any changes on my end. Frankly I feel a need to be harsh in my tone on this. I have a lot of respect for what you are doing with this site and the civility you promote, but I feel like we are in danger as a community of talking ourselves out of recognizing what is happening to a small but significant chunk of northfield. I will keep tabs on this though, and look at my post from a different computer and continue to add my voice.

    I don’t see the people that would have been offended by my original post having much interest in what I have to say as it is, but I will try to keep people on board without squelching the fiery frustration that this situation builds within me.

    I’ve seen the drug element in this town slide from grateful dead influenced peaceniks to well-heeled selfish junkies and it is a source of great frustration to see this energy siphoned off. To see people try to act like it isn’t a problem because they have a beef with Smith’s numbers or tactics really gets my goat.

  13. Concerned Citizen, thanks much for reposting your comments in a civil tone. Anger is perfectly acceptable here.

    I’m not clear why you need to be anonymous so let’s make contact via email so you can explain. Until then, I’ll let your post stand.

  14. Chief Smith was conducting a criminal investigation of City Administrator Roder?

    I totally missed this segment in the Nfld News story until Curt Benson pointed it out to me this morning:

    Roder also declined to comment on whether a criminal investigation of Roder by the chief was a factor in Smith taking a leave of absence.

    The administrator confirmed that Smith claims to be conducting a criminal investigation against his boss, but said he didn’t know the chief’s reasoning.

    “He didn’t say why,” Roder said.

    Typically such investigations are conducted by outside agencies.

    Smith could not be reached for comment.

  15. “Roder also declined to comment on whether a criminal investigation of Roder by the chief was a factor in Smith taking a leave of absence.”

    This should have been reported at the same time, this is what John Thomas is talking about. This could be the reason Gary is taking a leave of absence.

    Why is Roder being investigated? Does anyone know? Also I wonder if Gary leave of absence was forced.

  16. This discussion is interesting but will overshadow another one we might have.

    Heroin is back in our community and isn’t a “gateway” drug. Let’s ask: What can we do about it?

  17. Thank you for attempting to refocus this discussion, Ms. Cairns. Heroin is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Not talking about won’t make the problem go away.

  18. You must have confidence in your police and what they report regarding specific problems in the community. Who has a better track on the negative activities that are occurring?

    Having been directly involved in more than 800 heroin related arrests (mid-70’s) I offer this comment. The arrests were made by one of two teams, each with two Officers, in a community of approximately 100,000 residents & 3 of 4 high school’s likely having a higher student body total than Northfield’s. One major university in the county. The second team was probably very close or exceeded their own “800” total also.

    The indications in this report are, in my opinion, there is likely a major heroin problem in Northfield. I’m concerned about the numbers involved, 15/250 “users” if my memory is correct; depending on either the Chief or school superintendent’s numbers.

    I’m most concerned and suggest a “major” problem due to the reported heroin involvement by high-school-age persons. During six-years involvement with heroin related investigations, I can only recall two (2) in which junior high school (middle school) age persons were involved; no high school or university age “users.” I’ll agree, some persons in this category may not have been identified, investigated or arrested. Given the type and size of community involved (Northfield), even if only 50% of the reported totals are accurate, there’s a problem!

    How many heroin related (arrests) have been made; either in Northfield or throughout the county? This is only an indicator of the extent of the Northfield problem but will give us an idea on what has been occurring. As we all understand, property related crimes, aside from being conducted by drug users, are also perpetrated by many other types of persons/criminals.

    I don’t know the preferred method of heroin ingestion today, but, take a look at inner arms and the back of hands. These are the decades old preferred (injection) sites that will leave visible puncture marks or “tracks” (numerous puncture marks in line indicating extensive use). For the most part, heroin is not a drug (opiate) you use once or twice and stop using. It’s very likely once a person starts using heroin they will continue until voluntarily submitting to an extensive drug treatment and counseling program.

    Until there’s evidence the reported numbers are inaccurate, full support should be given to the Chief and all Officers in the PD. Even if the report is flawed, correct the error and continue to support all Officers. Who are you going to call for assistance, a “junkie?”

    Thanks…..

  19. I am not sure why the chief has requested a leave of absence but I wish him the best.

    My son is a student in the Northfield school system and this story has interested me greatly.

    My thoughts on the larger subject brought up in this thread are as follows. I do believe that there are some applicable points and criticism for the blogging community in these posts.

    The point “…the blogosphere is going to be the end of modern, responsible journalism as we know it” is one I don’t agree with.

    Bloggers as reporters are people. Responsibility lies with the person who is disseminating the information. The mainstream press makes mistakes and bloggers will make mistakes. The nice thing about a blog site is that you can question a story in front of the whole readership. Newspapers print retractions on incorrect or misleading information only when a group of people decide it needs to be corrected, and then the retraction or correction can be days later or hard/impossible to find.

    Responsible journalism or blogging doesn’t just “happen.” It has to be done by responsible people. If the mainstream reporter is found to be irresponsible, he’s fired or forced to retire. A blogging site, if found to be irresponsible or publish false information, will be ignored and the site will lose favor with its readership and become irrelevant.

    As to the liability of what is written here or said anywhere in public: it’s really not up to anyone to censor what someone says or posts. We are all liable for what we say publicly and this blog has a larger audience than most conversations. So if Locally Grown wishes to post information that they believe is relevant to their community (Northfield, MN), that they have a vested interest in, more power to them.

    A criticism of the site is the moderated censorship that is done to “protect” the readers from what I am assuming are harsh words. Would it be possible to publish a warning with a link to the uncensored comments so the information is complete?

    This is a community blog with information about the community and a format for discussion. I appreciate the information provided and the effort made here.

    “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” A.J. Liebling

  20. Responsible journalism or blogging doesn’t just “happen.” It has to be done by responsible people. If the mainstream reporter is found to be irresponsible, he’s fired or forced to retire. A blogging site, if found to be irresponsible or publish false information, will be ignored and the site will lose favor with its readership and become irrelevant.

    Thank you! You have stated elegantly the point I was trying to formulate in my mind for a few days now. Excellent response!

  21. John (Thomas) wrote

    In High School Journalism class, we were taught to Check our facts, Check our Facts, Check our Facts…

    Well, my concern with the internet and the media these days, is that they are citing blogs as sources.

    I don’t know when you were in a journalism class, so forgive me if I missed the timing. But, I am told that journalism as a trusted source is old news, and that the new rule is “print anything as long as you attribute it to someone”. So, if I claim something (like that the lowest 51% of tax payers pay only 2.3% of the taxes collected) then as long as they attribute the quote to me they are under no obligation to fact check. This (if true) would appear to be a change from what we hoped they were doing, which is acting as honest brokers of information who would call out any stupid statements, or at least throw in a [sic] to indicate that any error in facts were the fault of the speaker not the reporter.

    If my understanding is correct, and they are quoting blogs without fact-checking them, then the media is no longer serving us well.

    I live in the world of scientific research, so I am really familiar with the sorts of things that go with presenting information to an audience with some serious critical thinking skills. I fear that our media has forgotten that not all of the sources they find are quite so scrupulous and that their audience is not necessarily well trained in critical thinking, in part because the sort of reporting that trains people (through experience with good reporting) does not sell ad space.

  22. I’d like to write a few words in defense of “fingerpointing”.

    I would hope the readers would take the time to listen to the podcasts in their entirety, but especially at the two points I site.

    I directed my fingerpointing towards Chief Smith because I believed the way he handled the press conference was outrageous and believed that if his conduct in deciding to do the press conference in the way he did was indicative of abilities and his ethics, we were in real trouble.

    First, his rationale to hold the conference in such a splashy, televised, statewide fashion was to serve notice to the Twin Cities heroin dealers that their Northfield customers were “burned”. Smith believed that the dealers would see him on TV, read about him in the newspapers or find out about his threats in some other way–and they’d be scared and stop selling to Northfielders. I thought this was unlikely, but if others sincerely believe that this is the way the drug dealing world works, I think it’s OK to agree with Smith.

    However, I can’t see how anyone could agree with the way Smith held the conference. He didn’t ask any stakeholders for their opinions. No one was consulted in forming his “NIMBY” plan. He barely informed them at all–sending them last minute emails. Then at the press conference he claimed exactly the opposite. Please listen for yourself at the 27:30 mark:

    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/archives/1744/

    Last night at the joint session between the city council and the school board, City Council member Noah Cashman quizzed Roger Schroeder (who was with Smith at the original press conference, now taking Smith’s place) about Chief Smith’s statements. You can hear it at 16:50:

    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/archives/1932/#comment-20430

    Any way you slice it, Chief Smith lied at his press conference–and not in some accidental, fine pointed, unimportant way. Listen for yourself.

    Our leaders need to be accountable. Fingerpointing is a part of accountability sometimes.

    By the way, I was really impressed with the Joint Meeting last night. No one was discounting the fact that we have a heroin/oxy problem. Everyone was looking for constructive ways to deal with this problem. I think we can expect better things from Roger Schroeder.

  23. Another note on the numbers and the reporting. I have seen over and over where public officials, under pressure from a runaway jury fed by the press, have rushed to release weak numbers because the howling jackals are in a frenzy. Then, as more facts come out, they often regret having tried to be accommodating. In pursuing truth in this situation I looked up some of the statistical techniques used to estimate populations (especially heroin users) based on various reports. The literature runs from multiple of 4 (times the number in treatment) to larger numbers relative to self reporting and other sources. If the Chief had had the attention of the press long enough to explain anything, and if the press/bloggers had had the patience to explain that explanation, we would have seen a statement like

    “From the local treatment clinic we know of 30 [a number I heard at the Key’s forum] people who received treatment in the last year. According to New England Journal of Medicine articles the appropriate multiplier is 4-6 so we would believe that there are perhaps 120-180 users who could have entered treatment in the last year.

    Note that the base number is presented with a reference, the multiplier is given with a reference and the result is caveated by soft pedaling the numbers.

    Without such an explanation, any numbers I read I take with so many grains of salt that my doctor would roll her eyes right out of her head. But in a sound-bite and blog-byte world, no-one bothers to look that deep, especially since it is so much fun to watch the officials swinging in the wind after we get their hurried numbers and run to carve those numbers in the hard rock of the infotainment machine.

  24. In the meeting I have had in the past with Gary Smith, he seems to be an arrogant and egotistical person. In general these types of people do not run and hide because other people did and/or do not like the things they are saying.

    When I read your post yesterday, my first thought was that something else is going on; this is way deeper then what he did on July 3.

    Maybe you should check into what is going on with Northfield City Administer Al Roder and why Gary Smith was conducting a criminal investigation against him.

    I thought this discussion was about Gary Smith’s leave of absence and the whys and hows of that. The heroin issue is not going anywhere, we can sit and talk about it 24/7. What is need now is ACTION. The first group of adults who have to take action are the parents.

  25. Police Chief Gary Smith, who’s been in office for eight years, leaves when there’s a superficial flap over his handling of a press conference? This seems like an extreme action given the circumstances.

    I wondered, last night when I heard the news, if there could be another reason. I even sensed (totally unverifiable), that the heroin thing wasn’t the reason for the leave — regardless of people’s understandable assumptions.

    This morning, I was surprised to read of the criminal investigation of Roder. I wondered, as did the article imply, whether this might have something to do with the leave somehow.

    Regardless, it seems there is more to this story than we are hearing.

    Note: Just as it is obvious some posters have major problems with Smith, I too have my biases — though I won’t disguise my name or post anonymously. I, personally, liked Smith and got along with him well. I also like Roder and get along with him well. I have yet to see anything that would lead me to believe they are/were anything but assets to our community.

    I would be sorry to see us lose a good police chief over this incident. I am sorry to see so much of the community distracted from the real issue by worrying over how it was handled. I am sorry about how this makes our community look.

    The Key had a great forum with many interesting ideas for potential solutions. People weren’t saying that we have an enforcement issue, but an educational and societal issue. Start here if to explore solutions.

  26. I have just heard on WCCO TV news that the Chief may have left due to an
    ongoing medical problem and that the heroin story may have exasperated
    the situation. Don’t know how accurate that info is however.

    Bright

  27. The Nfld News just published this story on their website: Medical condition is cause of chief’s absence

    An ongoing medical condition prompted Police Chief Gary Smith to take a leave of absence, Smith’s attorney said Wednesday. David Hvistendahl, who has represented the chief and his family for several years, said the stress brought on by his job has exacerbated the problem. What the problem is, Hvistendahl wouldn’t say.

    … Hvistendahl also addressed the criminal investigation Smith had begun against Roder. Smith did some preliminary investigation, Hvistendahl said, then turned the matter over to County Attorney Paul Beaumaster before asking for the leave. Hvistendahl declined to comment further on the nature of the investigation. Beaumaster, he said, is expected to determine how to proceed with the investigation and whether another agency should continue looking into the chief’s concerns.

  28. Griff, any idea how long before we know when “indefinite leave” becomes a definite something? Are Northfield taxpayers paying for the leave?

  29. I don’t know, David… good questions. Maybe the reporters, Sarah Lamagie or Suzie Rook, could find out!

    I was hoping that the Strib article on Chief Smith would have shed some light on the two big questions: 1) what’s his medical condition? and 2) what was his issue with Al Roder? Alas, zippo.

  30. David, regarding Smith’s LOA. I talked to Al Roder at last week’s Armory meeting, hoping to get at least a general time frame for Smith’s medical leave. Roder said he was unable to say anything at all, due to privacy laws.

    If Smith’s leave falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act, he should be entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in 52 weeks. He also should be entitled to return to his old job. (I admit my extensive knowledge of FMLA comes from one minute with Wikipedia–so take it with a grain or two of salt.)

  31. I understood that Smith took a paid disability leave based upon his disability occurring on the job.

    What kind of leave he took, and payment while gone should be a matter of public record. How long he can take should be a matter of law based upon his request.

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