Interim replacement for gang strike force announcedby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Department of Public Safety on Friday announced the Metro Gang Strike Force will remain suspended while an investigation continues into its operations.
A temporary, multi-jurisdictional law enforcement unit, designed specifically to combat gang violence in the Twin Cities this summer, will be created.
It is expected to be fully staffed and operational within 10 days.
The new unit comes at the recommendation of the Metro Gang Strike Force Review Panel, in light of new findings from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion, and several metro-area police departments and sheriffs offices.
Campion said the embattled Metro Gang Strike Force will remain suspended indefinitely until the strike force review panel and the FBI complete their investigations.
"We need to ensure the integrity of the operation before the strike force resumes its work, and, based on the initial findings of the review panel and the follow-up report by the auditor, we now know that will take longer than originally expected," Campion said. "We're confident we have a short-term solution to combating gang violence. This new unit will keep our communities safe, particularly in the summer months when gang activity often spikes."
A legislative audit of the force last month found lax record keeping and questioned seizures of cars and cash by investigators working for the force.
The controversy deepened the evening of May 20, when some officers returned to the unit's headquarters and began clearing out the office and shredding paperwork.
The new, temporary gang unit will be made up of eight to ten investigators at minimum from local law enforcement agencies across the metro area and will have a strict governance and supervisory structure, according to Campion.
"We will make certain that cash and vehicles seized by officers during the course of an arrest are appropriately logged, tracked and secured," Campion said. "In order for prosecutors to charge these cases and obtain convictions in court, officers need to write detailed investigatory reports and handle the evidence properly from the time of the initial arrest."
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who heads one of the agencies involved in the strike force, has said his officers have traced some of the missing vehicles. He added that destroying paperwork on secret informants and other confidential matters is a routine security measure.
The strike force's commander, however, shut down the unit, and its governing board suspended operations altogether on May 27 pending the outcome of a formal legal probe.
Minneapolis and Metro Transit police have since announced their intention to pull out of the cooperative effort.
- All Things Considered, 06/12/2009, 5:24 p.m.
Elizabeth Baier, based in Rochester, covers news in southeastern Minnesota for MPR News.