Audio: Does the Fargo Park District Really Need Their Own Police Department?

Fargo Park District director Joel Vettel, then a Lieutenant for the Fargo Police Department, in March 2008. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum

When I first read that the Fargo Park District wants its own police department my reaction was…

So today I had on Park District director (and former Fargo Police Department officer) Joel Vettel to discuss the proposal. You can listen to the full audio of our interview below.

What Vettel told me is that the Park District has, much like the greater Fargo community, been growing at a rapid pace. As such, they have a lot of security needs. People want the parks to be safe. Thus, the Park District has need for a security coordinator to do things like consolidate video monitoring, establish uniform security policies, and serve as a liaison to law enforcement.

“We never had a person to coordinate safety and security,” Vettel told me.

I understood all that. It makes sense.

But then Vettel told me the Park District decided they need a sworn police officer to fill that position, and the simplest way to hire a sworn police officer is to establish a police department.

Vettel said this would be a way to cut through a lot of red tape. A way to “streamline” the Park District’s security and safety.

I’m not so sure. This sounds like the creation of a lot of new red tape to me, and having the Fargo Police Department and the Fargo Park District Police Department hardly sounds like streamlining.

Why wouldn’t the Park District just partner with the Fargo Police Department for something like a resource officer? A caller asked Vettel that question and he dismissed it, but didn’t really seem to give a lot of details as to why it’s a bad idea.

Vettel said this would be a way to cut through a lot of red tape. A way to “streamline” the Park District’s security and safety.

There is also the question of all the equipment and training that goes along with hiring a sworn police officer.

In this news article Vettel says he wants the Fargo Police Department to provide the equipment and training and crime reporting system for the park district officer to use. But if there is already that degree of overlap between Vettel’s one-officer police department and the exiting municipal police force why even bother creating the separate department?

Why not just hire another officer for the Fargo Police Department who will work with the Park District and use the existing equipment and training and command structure?

“Our intention isn’t to ever replace the Fargo Police Department,” Vettel told me.

I’m pretty sure nobody was expecting that the Park District would try to replace the Police Department. I think what people – including this observer – are struggling with is the idea that the Park District needs its own police department.

Frankly, it sounds a little silly.

I wish we’d had more time for our discussion, but unfortunately we came up against the end of the show. I hope Vettel takes the time to explain what he’s trying to do more fully to the taxpayers before he pushes ahead, because I think there are a lot of people in the community feeling a little confused.

Here’s the audio from the show:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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