Police agencies discuss future of gang task forceby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The investigation of the Metro Gang Strike Force is expanding, Minnesota's Public Safety Commissioner told police in St. Paul today.
Two separate investigations are looking into the operations of the 30-member task force, dating back to at least January of 2006. A former federal prosecutor is in charge of one probe, with an eye towards reforming the gang unit. The FBI is also looking at the matter.
Public safety commissioner Michael Campion says there are more questions about wrongdoing.
"Things aren't getting better," he said. "They're getting worse."
Campion made those comments to the representatives of 13 police agencies, all part of the Gang Strike Force's advisory board that had officers in the unit.
Campion declined to elaborate on specifics, but said he looked through some of the work left behind by the strike force at its offices in New Brighton. The state took custody of more than 100 guns left behind when the strike force shut down last month.
"There is still evidence in the evidence room that has not been gone through," Campion said. "There is evidence has surfaced in the evidence room that doesn't belong there."
That prompted a debate about the future of fighting organized crime in the Twin Cities. State officials have said the Twin Cities gang unit needs a fresh start. They've banned all current members of the strike force from working for the unit, at least through the end of this year.
Some local police agencies objected.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says the decision taints all the officers in the unit, whether they were actually the subject of an investigation or not. Harrington says recreating the unit takes too long at a time when it's needed on the street.
"I would argue that if you take brand new officers out that have never worked gangs, that have never had this kind of experience, that you're in fact putting a pretty large anchor on them as you try to get them to move forward."
But others insist that only a fresh start would restore public confidence in the gang unit's integrity.
The strike force was the subject of a critical state report last month. The office of the legislative auditor said thousands of dollars in cash seized from alleged criminals was missing, as were dozens of vehicles. The report faulted a trip by investigators to Hawaii, and said that officers weren't complying with state regulations.
Even some of the departments that participated in the strike force seem to be having second thoughts.
Brooklyn Park Police Chief Michael Davis says his department is out of the effort, for the foreseeable future.
"I think one of the biggest issues is that you have all these drug task forces," he said. "We've got all of these ad-hoc entities. We've got our individual efforts. Are they complementing each other or are they in conflict?"
Deputy Minneapolis police chief Robert Allen said his department is weighing whether to rejoin the unit. This spring Chief Tim Dolan pulled his department out, citing budget problems.
Bud Shaver, the police chief in West St. Paul, said agencies like his really have no option. He chairs the board that oversees the gang unit.
"We had a couple of shootings here in over the past year. One a drive by. One over a party, over a girl. We suspected some gang involvement there. And because of our relationship in the gang strike force, we were able to gather up those names in a short period of time," he said.
"The only way that I'm going to combat gangs and gang violence in my community is through such a joint effort, like the Metro Gang Strike Force."
A temporary unit is expected to be at work by mid-July, at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension headquarters in St. Paul. The governing board will meet to talk about its future next week.
- All Things Considered, 06/30/2009, 5:54 p.m.