FARGO — Plans to make improvements to the Fargo Police Department and with its chief, as directed by the Fargo City Commission, are underway after complaints surfaced earlier this year about high turnover and morale issues.
As the plans and review progress, Police Chief David Zibolski wrote detailed responses to five goals set out in a department performance action plan and responded to what is described as the ” leader’s performance improvement plan.
Additionally, Zibolski conducted one-on-one interviews with the department’s approximately 200 employees who are not on extended leave to learn more about their concerns.
Most of the face-to-face meetings ended after The Forum and WDAY News reported on issues within the department in January based on exit interviews. These interviews showed that morale issues have apparently led to resignations and retirements, with 25 officers leaving in 2021.
Some of those leaving blamed the chief for the department’s problems, with one saying the department was in crisis and some officers felt “defeated”.
Following this media coverage, city commissioners voted earlier this year to implement the improvement and performance plans.
One-on-one interviews with all staff have improved the situation, Zibolski wrote in the latest plan updates from late March that were obtained by The Forum.
The boss wrote that he thought they had “helped move the discussion from issues that plagued them (employees) at my start to resolved or ongoing issues.”
Thus, the leader who took office in October 2020 said that this “allows new forward-thinking discussions to take place”.
As part of the chief’s performance review, the city administration has weekly discussions with Zibolski and Mayor Tim Mahoney, the police department liaison for the city commission.
The mayor confirmed in an interview that the chief and the department have been working on the improvement goals set by the commissioners and the city administration.
“I’m pleased with the progress,” Mahoney said.
The city’s director of communications, Gregg Schildberger, was asked about the chief writing his own responses to his improvement plan. He responded that Zibolski, as department head, “is responsible for implementing and delivering all elements” of the action plan and his own improvement plan.
The chief, meanwhile, also holds regular meetings with human resources and the finance department, Schildberger said, to work through issues and budgets.
As work continues on the city’s 2023 budget, the leader plans to update city staff and the city commission in a report this summer on staffing changes, vacancies and retention rates .
In addition to individual chief interviews, the city administration is working on a separate 12-question survey called a “stay interview” that has been offered to all employees to hopefully retain sworn officers and civilian staff.
Officers and other employees can speak with their supervisor, a member of the human resources team or the city administration, Schildberger said.
The investigation is ongoing, so the results are not yet available, he said.
Mahoney said about 60 of those interviews have been completed and initial reports are “good.” He said they indicated there had been “old school and new school” issues in the department.
The mayor said he was impressed by the responses of the new recruits.
“I think they’re going to be rock stars,” he said, as they show real dedication while being careful about how they carry out their duties.
The mayor said he believes the department is improving to deal with “bad experiences” some officers may have. He agreed that morale and welfare are important as the plans progress.
Schildberger added that the “stay talks” are part of an initiative that will also be carried out in all other city departments in the coming months. The police department was the first to undergo the process, he said.
Some of the questions asked in the survey and interviews are:
- What do you like least about your job?
- Did something happen that made you think about leaving? What?
- How would you describe your relationship with your supervisor?
- What specifically concerns you about the direction of the police department or the direction of the city?
The leader’s improvement plan
Offering details about his own plan for improvement, Zibolski wrote about the steps he has taken and those the department as a whole is tackling.
He began his response by writing about his positive relationship with the city administration and other department heads. He added that he had also “responded to many emails, phone calls and general inquiries from City Commissioners without issue”.
In terms of department communication and relationship building, he said, planning began in 2021 and continues this year, adding that the pandemic has hampered efforts for better communication.
The communications plan is “being refined to support the 2023 budget requests as well as provide a roadmap for the department over the next five years and beyond,” he wrote.
Video presentations were also made regularly, Zibolski said, and are “available to all staff to keep department members up to date on ongoing programs and issues.”
Another issue in trying to improve morale has been urging staff to use vacation time. Zibolski said he was allowing and encouraging increased use by staff after an ongoing staff shortage affected some vacation requests.
In addressing morale and other issues, he said, he wants to “move the department forward in a positive way, using established leadership principles and law enforcement best practices.”
“I see continued growth, cohesion and proficiency within our department’s team and I am proud to be the chief of the Fargo Police Department,” he wrote.
Department performance action plan
Zibolski wrote about plans to achieve five goals as part of the Fargo Police Department’s performance action plan, as outlined by the city commission.
Objective 1: Assessment of the organizational structure:
The chief highlighted that they had a reorganization plan which they rolled out in February 2021 to create operational efficiencies and career development opportunities for all sworn and civilian personnel. The plan was presented to all staff and the municipal commission.
The chief said the plan was developed through operational observations, staff input and his 37 years of experience overseeing four different law enforcement organizations.
Objective 2: Patrol shift schedules and modification:
A change in the patrol shift schedule was made last year at the request of “a large number of department staff”. Patrollers voted in favor of the 10 a.m. shift schedule, and it began March 8, 2021.
He said the schedule “provides the greatest flexibility to cover shortages while maintaining training and work-life balance”. In another review earlier this year, officers voted 88% to keep the 10 a.m. schedule, Zibolski said. His one-on-one interviews confirmed the favorable response, he wrote.
Objective 3: Staff recruitment, retention, improvement of satisfaction:
The chief said the training and development unit was “aggressively seeking qualified and diverse candidates regionally and nationally”.
A police executive research forum, published in March this year, updated a national survey which found problems in this area have not diminished but have worsened nationwide, said he declared. Although the hiring of officers rebounded in 2021, according to the report, the increase in resignations and retirements “continues to put pressure on the overall number of officers”. The survey was conducted among 179 law enforcement officials in 37 states.
Objective 4: Implement mental and physical health initiatives:
A “culture team” of sworn and civilian personnel found that “officer welfare” was a concern. Zibolski said planning has been underway since late 2020.
Steps taken since, he reported, have been resiliency training, improved physical exams to better combat heart disease – the biggest killer in law enforcement – training facilities at the updated and expanded department, research of other wellness programs and an ongoing effort to find law enforcement. mental health providers.
In March, Deputy Chief Travis Stefonowicz and a team attended a conference to brainstorm and plan to create a wellness effort that includes physical health, mental health, nutrition, sleep and financial assistance for staff, the chef wrote.
Goal 5: Community Engagement Efforts of the Leader and Leadership Team:
Zibolski said the pandemic has slowed efforts, but noted he attended 50 community events and 32 community-specific meetings in his first 16 months. Last year, he said, he also took part in 60 media interviews, and he did 22 interviews until April 1 this year.
He also said he worked to successfully pass a new state law to make it a Class A felony for a drug dealer to cause an overdose.
In developing his leadership team, Zibolski said, he drew on many national training resources and experts.
“Many of our supervisory ranks have never received training to help them in their new role,” he said. Among the courses provided to the leadership team were implicit bias training and de-escalation training. His team also attended several conferences focused on leadership and oversight, he said.