Fargo officials recently released the results of their “stay interview” program, which highlighted a number of challenges facing the city’s police department.
The program consisted of interviews with city police officers and aimed to better understand employees’ concerns. It revealed a number of issues regarding staffing shortages, communication issues and significant emotional trauma within the ranks.
According to Mayor Tim Mahoney on December 22, the “stay interviews” were conducted to address employee issues within the Fargo Police Department and boost retention after signs of widespread discontent were noticed last year. Ninety officers participated in the interviews, which were conducted with their choice of a police official, city administrator or human resources officer.
The interviews explored what officers liked and disliked about their job, and identified a number of significant issues such as burnout, confusion over work assignments, department reputation, and low pay and benefits. There was also positive feedback from officers regarding their training and equipment.
“I think it brings up and confirms a lot of issues that we had identified and had been working on,” Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said of the program’s report. “It’s certainly an additional way to increase that internal communication, and kind of grow the comfort level because the idea is to move this process forward.”
Mahoney said the program was influenced by private employers conducting similar interviews with their staff. The move came after the mayor was criticized by city commissioners back in January for failing to do his duty after it was found that the department was operating at “half-strength” during its daytime patrol shifts due to the number of vacancies.
Since then, the department has made significant progress recruiting new officers. According to Zibolski, the department currently has 16 vacancies, and is authorized to have 186 sworn officers and 27 civilian employees. Zibolski noted that two new officers are set to be sworn in early next year, followed by a dozen in late January.
“We’re in a much different place than we were a year ago,” Zibolski said alongside Mahoney and city officials at a recent news conference.
Officials hope the information gathered from the interviews should keep the department adequately staffed.
Mahoney said that it is important for the City Commission “to make sure police officers hear we’ve got their backs and we support them 100%.”
Following the report, Zibolski said the department plans to implement several changes in the near future to support employee wellness, such as adding heart screenings and improving access to mental health services.
Incoming City Administrator Mike Redlinger added that the report reflects a shift in the department.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of transition. There have been exits in the department in the last year, but a lot of great new hires, as well as some experienced hires. There has been a lot of change. I think it’s fundamentally different this year even compared to a year ago. I think the report reflects that,” Redlinger stated.