FARGO — WDAY News reporter Kevin Wallevand spent weeks speaking with current and former Fargo Police Department officers. Now, after a public records request, WDAY News has found the data and the officer’s concerns to be alarming.
In addition to the staffing issues facing hospitals and schools, the Fargo Police Department is experiencing what one officer described as a “bleeding from within.”
According to documents received via a public records request, in 2021 alone, 25 officers left the department.
According to two employee exit interviews, in the last 14 months, 33 people left.
Police officers in West Fargo and Moorhead both told WDAY News that their openings fluctuate, but average around five or six.
“The large amount of openings nationwide, … the challenge is really finding a fully staffed department because they don’t really exist,” the police chief said. Fargo, Dave Zibolsky.
Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski — who has been in Fargo for a year and a half — says what Fargo is witnessing is a nationwide problem. The officers want out.
“(N)ationally, there has been research done (…) from (2019 -2020) and the recruitment pool is down 5%, retirements are up 45%, and resignations are up 18% (…) and they are doing a new survey, because they expect the numbers to continue to rise,” Zibolski said. “(I)t tells me that the police environment has become more difficult – not just because of work – but by finding people who want to be cops.”
Exit interviews of those who have retired or left for new jobs indicate that the situation has become a public safety issue.
In the words of an exit interview: “(T)he Fargo Police Department is in crisis, and Chief Zibolski won’t admit it.”
A letter sent to city leaders said:
“Chief Zibolski and his appointed administration are the main reason for so many departures. He needs to open his eyes and ears and face his mistakes and his lack of leadership before anyone wants to protect her.” writes the former officer.
From multiple exit interviews, there were criticisms of the leader.
“Chief Zibolski believed the FPD were a bunch of thugs and that they were there to ‘fix’ us,” the former officer wrote.
“(I) if we all pull the rope in the same direction, it’s a good team. You know, if I come to work every day and have to sit next to someone who, for a any reason, is sympathetic or negative, it starts to have a perverse effect…” Zibolski said.
From the multiple exit interviews that we have studied, a common thread:
“Loyal officers were confused, exhausted and defeated,” one officer wrote.
Others, who served in the police administration, were positive about the police force.
“Continue to support the police department during this difficult time. Add more officers,” a document said.
Indeed, it is a problem. WDAY News received a document indicating that only seven Fargo police officers were recently on day duty for the entire city. Usually this number is at least a dozen – they are so short.
Service calls average 211 per day. In recent weeks, two cops from Fargo traveled to Cass County for work, one went to Clay County and one to West Fargo.
As one police officer wrote in his exit interview, “Being a police officer requires sacrifices that I would rather not make in the future (i.e. shift work, on call, workload enormous, bad administration). family time, excessive stress and frustration are not healthy in the long run.”
Another wrote: “I don’t hate the Fargo Police Department, but I do hate the toxic environment that exists within it.
Coming Monday, Jan. 17, WDAY News investigates claims by many departing police officers that mental health and cries for help are not being heard by leaders, making it difficult even for veterans to to stay.
WDAY NEWS spoke with several Fargo police officers who are still active and those who recently left. None wanted to pass in front of the camera for fear of reprisals.