WF police chief expected to ask for more staff, reorganize department

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WEST FARGO—A recent work climate survey of police department employees here found while most feel new Chief Heith Janke is moving the department in the right direction, many feel the culture has a long way to go before morale is high.

When Janke was hired in July to replace embattled police chief Mike Reitan, he said he would take at least 90 days to fully review his department before making any organizational changes.

Janke individually interviewed each employee and sent out a survey to request feedback from them. He plans to present a plan for reorganization and submit a staffing request to the West Fargo City Commission at its Monday night meeting.

The West Fargo Police Department has 49 sworn officers, 12 civilian staff and five volunteers. Among the sworn officers are the chief, assistant chief, two lieutenants and three sergeants.

In comparison, the Fargo Police Department, the largest in North Dakota with more than three times the city population of West Fargo, has about 174 sworn police officers, a chief, two deputy chiefs and seven lieutenants.

Mayor Rich Mattern said he expects the chief will request up to five new staff members.

"I think we'll see more sergeants and more people on the street," Mattern said. "I think we all want to move forward. We all agreed when we hired Heath that changes would be coming."

Moving in the right direction

The city fired Reitan in February, citing complaints of poor morale in the department. An investigation was opened after staff complained that he had created a hostile, unfair work environment since taking the helm in 2014. After conducting a national search, former attorney and FBI supervisor Janke was hired in July.

City Spokeswoman Melissa Richard said Janke's survey was recently completed by 58 members of the police department. The survey, provided to The Forum following an open-records request, asked employees to rank how the department is doing, as well as performance of supervisors, administrators and city officials on a scale of one to five. It also allowed staff to make anonymous comments about their supervisors.

While the majority of responses said they are pleased with Janke's work so far and thought he was "taking the department in the right direction," many said there was still work to be done.

"We need to continue working on changing the culture," one employee wrote. "The good old boy mentality needs to go away."

The survey results showed a common concern that sergeants spend too much time in the office and not enough time on the streets.

"I feel all sergeants should be on the streets with patrol more often," an employee wrote.

Complaints about a nonexistent or unfair promotional process surfaced while Reitan was chief but can still be seen within the new survey results.

"The promotion process for additional duties/new positions has been a joke," one employee wrote.

Mattern, who has not yet seen the full survey results, said he has only heard anecdotal stories of Janke's leadership, but they have been positive from within the department and community and appear to show the police department is heading in the right direction.

"I think that we are moving forward, but it still will take some work," he said. "The chief is taking them in the right direction."