WEST FARGO-Two police chief candidates here, both with ties to West Fargo and both who stress having an open-door policy with staff, each spent a full day this week taking questions from city officials, police and media in hopes of being chosen for the job.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Heith Janke and North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Troy Hischer interviewed Wednesday, June 7, and Thursday, June 8, respectively.
Janke and Hischer were selected as finalists last month from 11 applicants. Fargo Deputy Chief Joe Anderson, another finalist, withdrew his name on May 18 citing "personal reasons."
On their respective interview days, Janke and Hischer each attended blocks of meet-and-greet opportunities in which city and police staff visited with the candidates and asked questions. Each also met individually with Mayor Rich Mattern, toured the police department and took part in a mock press conference.
Throughout the day, city commissioners dropped by for different sessions. Members of a panel who interviewed the initial 11 candidates and selected finalists based on a ranking system also attended events. That panel is comprised of City Administrator Tina Fisk, West Fargo Human Resources Administrator Jenna Wilm, Fire Chief Dan Fuller, Commissioner Mark Wentz and Fargo Training and Development Coordinator Mike Mitchell.
Fisk said her group will meet on Friday to discuss the recent interviews. Wilm said the group may make a hiring recommendation to the City Commission or it may decide more steps are needed.
Janke is a North Dakota State University graduate who earned a law degree from the University of North Dakota. His wife, also an NDSU athlete, has family and parents in West Fargo.
Janke has worked for the FBI since 2005, and since 2013 in its Kansas City office, where he has supervised more than 400 cases.
Janke also worked for the FBI in San Antonio, Texas, and Washington D.C. Before joining the FBI, Janke was an associate attorney in Sioux Falls, S.D.
While working for the FBI, Janke said has been part of national headline-making cases such as the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot by neighborhood watch guard George Zimmerman in Florida; and the shooting of Michael Brown, a black man fatally shot by police officer Darren White that sparked racial riots in Ferguson, Mo.
To prepare for his interview on Wednesday, Janke studied comments from the police department regarding the leadership style of the former chief, Mike Reitan, who the City Commission fired on Feb. 6 after complaints surfaced that he created a hostile, toxic environment.
During a presentation to the city and police officials, Janke showed comments about the former chief's leadership style and compared them to comments made by his own subordinates about his leadership style to show the stark contrast. Janke said he prefers to lead by example and it is important to admit when wrong, but he will have officers' backs when right.
"You'll never hear me say department or squad," Janke said. "We are a team."
Janke said, if hired, he would review all the department's policies and implement methods for "employee empowerment" so that everyone has a voice.
Hischer, a University of Jamestown graduate and cancer survivor, started his law enforcement career as a Devils Lake police officer, where he served for about two years. He has been a member of the North Dakota Highway Patrol since January 1997.
He began his work as a trooper stationed in Rolla before moving up the ranks and into the Fargo office. He now supervises a staff of more than 22.
Hischer said he would like to institute clear guideposts for officers to obtain promotions and leadership skills. While Hischer said he believes the department should follow chain of command, he said he would consider if the current department structure needs changes and he would remain involved in police work.
"It's not about what I want, it's about what is good for the department," he said Thursday during his presentation
Hischer said if named chief, he would continue to work in uniform on the streets.
"My greatest strength is my experience," Hischer said. "I like being in uniform, I like being part of the department. I have no intention of losing my skills."
Hischer currently lives in West Fargo with his wife and four children.
"I work for a good agency and I'm happy where I'm at, but I could be happy in West Fargo," Hischer said.
Twelve applicants originally applied for the position, including four from within the West Fargo Police Department. One external candidate withdrew before initial interviews began.