When Michael Campion, Minnesota’s public safety commissioner, announced Friday that he was closing down a temporary incarnation of the state’s Metro Gang Strike Force, it seemed an inevitable end to an increasingly troubled agency.
In May, a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor revealed a number of fiscal and accounting red flags, including seized cash and cars that were never reported. Campion suspended operations. An FBI investigation is under way.
Chris Omodt, a captain with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, had been the commander of the agency since January and had been named interim commander of a temporary version of the agency that was revived less than a month ago.
Before Campion’s announcement Friday, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek had announced he was pulling Omodt off the strike force, just one day after news reports that Bud Shaver, West St. Paul police chief and strike force advisory board chair, allegedly had influenced St. Paul police in an arrest of his daughter that involved a car registered to Shaver.
Standing before the media Friday morning, Stanek made it clear that none of the issues associated with the strike force happened on Omodt’s watch but that nonetheless he wanted no association between his office and a state agency that had, in his view, lost credibility with the public.
Ironically enough, as a state representative more than a decade ago, Stanek helped draft legislation that led to the creation of the Metro Gang Strike Force. And, after being appointed public safety commissioner in 2003, Stanek theoretically had power over the task force.
Speaking with MinnPost by phone from his office Monday morning, Stanek — a 25-year law enforcement veteran who came up through the ranks of the Minneapolis Police Department, served five terms as a state rep and nearly four years heading public safety before taking the sheriff’s helm in 2007 — offered his view of just what went wrong with the agency he helped create.
MinnPost: Did you see the shutdown coming on Friday, or was it coincidental timing?
Rich Stanek: No, I didn’t know that Commissioner Campion was going to close the interim task force.
MP: In the time leading up to Friday, you decided to pull Capt. Omodt back into your department. Was that because you were unsatisfied with the way the interim task force was being set up?
RS: It was one of several reasons. Back in September, October, November of last year [were] the initial findings by the department of public safety regarding missing cash and vehicles unaccounted for. Then to move to the legislative auditor’s findings that was critical of the fiscal management of the Metro Gang Strike Force.
Next was the interim task force, and clearly, it did not have the structural organization that even the Metro Gang Strike Force had. There were no desks, no computers, no chairs. They only had eight personnel versus 34 personnel in the original Metro Gang Strike Force. They were based way over in the BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] in St. Paul, which is about 20 miles from our office here in downtown Minneapolis.
I didn’t see much value in Hennepin County officers participating in a task force that was essentially focused on the East Side of St. Paul. And last but not least was the West St. Paul situation with that police chief. There was no credibility left with that organization.
MP: You telegraphed my next question. Was the incident with Chief Shaver sort of a final straw for you?
RS: No, I’m not going to characterize it as that. Many people have tried to. It’s one in a series of things that hurt the Metro Gang Strike Force’s credibility, to the point where I didn’t think it had much value on behalf of the citizens of Hennepin County or the law enforcement agencies on the Hennepin County side.
MP: How much of this was a decision to just distance yourself with what is now a pretty messy situation? Was it a political motive?
RS: There’s no question they are in dire straits over there in terms of credibility, and there is an investigation by the FBI and finding by a legislative auditor. But this is business, and this is good business on behalf of the citizens of Hennepin County.
MP: Were you involved in the 1997 legislation to create the gang strike force?
RS: I was. I authored it in the House, but the initial legislation didn’t exactly meet what the final product is. [jokingly] Like all good legislative initiatives.
MP: But were you satisfied at the time that it was a good piece of lawmaking?
RS: No, I thought it needed more structure.
MP: How much of this is on [preceding commander] Ron Ryan’s shoulders?
RS: Um, well, I don’t talk about folks in first person. I’ll talk about the former commander. You know, the former commanders — there’s no question that there were disturbing managerial issues. … It has led to an FBI investigation, which is substantial.
I’m not going to place it all on his shoulders. He’s one person. However, you can look at the findings.
MP: I’ve known Commander Ryan over the years, and he strikes me as an ethical and straightforward cop, kind of a cop’s cop. I’m surprised that a lot of this appears to have been going on underneath him.
RS: There’s mismanagement, there’s malfeasance and there’s criminal. At the very least, I think people agree there was lack of managerial oversight. The other two? The jury’s still out, though both investigations are under way, and it will ferret out or root out what was or wasn’t.
MP: What do you do — and I specifically mean the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office — from here on out in relation to tracking gangs?
RS: I remind people all the time, when I came in as sheriff in Jan. 1, ’07, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office did not have anybody at Metro Gang. When I came in, we made an investment to send three deputies over as task force members.
The sheriff’s office has always had a robust gang-enforcement side to it, and so have the local communities. There’s a work group that meets that might give recommendations to 2010 legislative session to see if we can get this thing back on track.
MP: Anything else to add?
RS: People ask me all the time if this Metro Gang thing, “Was there value in it?” Absolutely there was. A lot of value in it. Somewhere along the way, though, it ran astray. It was about credibility. It was not OK to not issue property forfeitures and seizures. It was not OK to not write reports regarding arrest. It was not OK to not follow through with prosecution of people we arrested.
There was a time when Metro Gang Strike Force was a model to be looked at by the nation, really, back in ’97 and ’98. It never really kept up with the changing times in law enforcement. Can we reform it, number one, and number two, are we ever going to get over the credibility issue?
That’s going to be tough. And everybody shares a part of that.
G.R. Anderson Jr. covers politics, the state Capitol and issues related to public safety.