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Fargo police chief says two officers shouldn't have used their positions to oppose proposed apartment complex for homeless in Moorhead

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The chief “does not agree with their statements and … he does not agree with the fact that they made those statements,” police spokesman Lt. Joel Vettel said.

On Monday, Officers Jason Abel and Susan Dealing criticized the proposed apartments during a Moorhead City Council meeting. Both cited their experience as police officers in their comments, which crossed a line, Vettel said.

“Shoplifting will go up and theft from neighborhoods, from yards will go up,” Dealing told the council, which voted to oppose the apartments. “I know this. I’m a Fargo police officer.”

But police have no data that support that notion, Vettel said. “Any of that data would be anecdotal.”

Abel spoke out against the project, but used his position as a police officer to claim he was a homeless supporter.

“For someone to tell me that I don’t care about the homeless, I get pretty upset,” he told the council. “That’s the reason I became a cop. I care.”

“We agree with their right to speak as a citizen of Moorhead,” Vettel said. But “they shouldn’t have utilized their title,” he added.

The two officers were not scheduled to work Tuesday, but when they return they will meet with Ternes to discuss the situation. They will not be disciplined; police policy protects officers’ freedom of speech, Vettel said. 

The Fargo Police Department is not the only law enforcement agency to have joined the debate over the proposed apartments.

A Clay County sheriff’s deputy told City Council members June 9 that he was concerned and was “not prepared to have that discussion with my 3-year old daughter about what’s going on in the trees behind our house.”

Deputy Corby Nelson did nothing wrong, Sheriff Bill Bergquist said Tuesday.

“That was something that he did personally,” Bergquist said, though he added that he was not familiar with all the details.

Asked whether he would condone a deputy using his official position to make a point at a public meeting, Bergquist said he could not speculate, but that in general, “it doesn’t represent us when they’re there personally on their time.”

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