Historically Speaking: An interview with Greg Warren of the West Fargo Police Department
Detective Sergeant Greg Warren, a 35-year veteran of the West Fargo Police, sits with me in their "soft" interrogation room, which looks to be an abandoned doctor's office, complete with hand sanitizer and a paper towel dispenser hanging open above a sink. The difference between this room and a doctor's office is that the temperature gauge above my head and the light in the top corner are equipped to capture everything in the room. The footage can be sent to any law enforcement agency in the country, but today they're not on. It's just me and Greg, and he's talking about being a West Fargo teenager in the late 1960s.
"West Fargo was a trucking, blue collar town. It was a tough town. Fargo kids didn't come here, and if we went to Fargo, a lot of the times, we were chased back. But they would never pass the pipeline across from Stop N Go; they were always too scared."
Warren became a patrol officer for the WFPD in 1975. Patrol in the 70s and 80s meant calls to bar fights, but despite the town's tough reputation, there were usually only fists involved. One trick, he remembers, is that even when the entire bar was fighting, "old west style," with flying chairs, the officers would ask the bar tender to turn all of the lights on.
"It was like everybody just woke up," he says, "they would stop fighting and go about like normal." Bar fights cooled down in the late 80s and early 90s.
In 1994, he took the promotion to detective, replacing Don Jones as the sole investigator. Warren had wanted to be in investigations since starting law enforcement, and explains that it was a significant change from patrol.
"When you work a violent case, you take it home. You wake up in the middle of the night and try and figure out if you're doing the right thing or if you've got the right person. Your brain is like a tape recorder and it's on replay all the time," he recalls.
He says it wasn't until meth came to town in about the mid 90s that violent crimes with weapons became a problem. Addicts and dealers carried bats and knives, but usually not guns. Gangs had been silently growing for some time, and became front-page news with the murder of Cheryl Tendeland in November 1995.
Warren describes Barry Garcia, who was convicted of shooting Tendeland, as "probably the coldest person I've ever interviewed and he was only 16." The public outcry from the slaying sparked a crackdown on gang activity in the area. "We really had to roll up our sleeves and work hard, and the gang problem eventually calmed down, not that it ever could completely go away," Warren recalls.
Now, as Detective Sergeant he is in charge of eight officers, including detectives, school resource officers, drug task force officers, juvenile officers and a D.A.R.E. officer. Most of his day covers administrative tasks, which do not have the same appeal as solving crimes firsthand. There are still a couple of unsolved cases where the evidence wasn't there to convict, but one in particular makes the top of his list.
Rev. Fernando Sayasaya has been wanted since 1998 for the sexual abuse of three teenage boys in West Fargo while he was a priest at Blessed Sacrament, as well as similar crimes in Fargo. Law enforcement wasn't able to make an arrest before the church transferred him, first to South Dakota, and then back to his home in the Philippines. It has only been within the last year that the cooperation between the Philippines and the FBI yielded an arrest warrant in his home country, but Sayasaya has not been arrested. This emphasizes Warren's point that catching criminals is a community effort.
"If it wasn't for the community speaking up, crimes wouldn't get solved," he states.
Talking technology, he tells of when making traffic stops in 1975 meant that he had to radio in to have the dispatcher manually check for warrants and suspensions in a three-inch thick file sent in from Bismarck every couple of weeks. Computers in patrol cars have made traffic stops much faster and cameras on the dash have increased safety for the officers. However, he says, the biggest changes are yet to come in next five to ten years. "The new detectives are going to be a bunch of Dick Tracy's. The next phase is reading DNA at the crime scene. No more sending evidence to the lab to be analyzed."
With retirement only a thought in the back of his mind, he'll be able to see the new tech firsthand. In the meantime, if there's chaos, he'll be here to put the lid on it before it boils over. As his friend and predecessor Don Jones used to say, "We need to keep the lid on guys, if the lid comes off I'm getting out of here."
(Sam Beaudoin is a contributing writer to the West Fargo Pioneer/News who will be sharing insight of a historical nature, based on citizens and events. He also conducts oral history interviews for the West Fargo Historical Center located in the West Fargo Public Library. He has a B.A. in History from Minnesota State University Moorhead.)