The Metro Gang Strike Force, already reeling from a harsh government audit and revelations that some of its officers shredded internal documents, was notified Friday that the Minneapolis Police Department and another agency are pulling their officers out.
The Minneapolis department, which had the largest single contingent in the Gang Strike Force, said in a letter that it will withdraw its six officers and two supervisors effective July 1. Police Chief Tim Dolan signed the letter, dated Wednesday.
Metro Transit Police Chief David Indrehus on Friday e-mailed the advisory board that oversees the Strike Force, saying that his department would withdraw its single officer and end participation immediately.
The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office and the St. Paul Police Department both indicated Friday that they are weighing their options.
Neither Minneapolis police nor the Metro Transit police cited the fiscal management questions swirling around the Strike Force as the reason for withdrawing.
Chris Omodt, Strike Force commander, said Friday that he was disappointed but not shocked by the withdrawals, which will reduce the Strike Force member numbers from 34 to 25.
"Chief Dolan informed me several months ago that they might be pulling out due to economic reasons," Omodt said. "It is going to hurt initially, but I am confident we will overcome it in time."
The Strike Force is a multi-agency law enforcement task force that supplies officers who tackle gang problems and drug-related crime in the metro area.
Omodt abruptly suspended operations of the Strike Force on Wednesday night after discovering that some Strike Force members removed files and shredded documents at its headquarters in New Brighton.
Earlier that day, state Legislative Auditor James Nobles issued a report that said the Strike Force could not account for more than $18,000 in seized cash and 13 seized vehicles. Following his presentation before a state legislative commission, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion announced plans for a separate investigation of the Strike Force.
While Assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Sharon Lubinski called it a coincidence, her department's withdrawal letter was dated Wednesday, the same day as the audit report, Campion's announcement and the nighttime shredding.
Lubinski said that although the Minneapolis officers will be withdrawn, they will remain focused on fighting gang crime in Minneapolis and will be kept together under a central command.
"Their primary mission is to be responsive to the precincts and the neighborhoods," she said.
In a letter to Campion and Manila Shaver, chairman of the Metro Gang Strike Force Advisory Board, Dolan said the withdrawal was necessary to reduce expenses and "dramatically maximize the use of our remaining personnel."
"Minneapolis is dealing with reductions in the revenues the city generates through property taxes, as well as the likely loss of revenues promised by the state in the form of local government aid," Dolan wrote.
He said the department had "benefited greatly" from the work of the Strike Force, but he cited a "need to focus our declining resources."
Noting that the Strike Force is changing its focus from street-level enforcement to more long-term investigations, Dolan wrote: "The street-level enforcement has been a great benefit to the city of Minneapolis. We currently receive outstanding results in long-term investigations from our Violent Offender Task Force."
Neither Campion nor Shaver could be reached for comment Friday.
What the others say
Indrehus of the Metro Transit police wrote that, "Now that the legislative session has ended and the transit funding issue has become solidified, we have been advised that the Metro Transit Police, like many departments, will be required to sustain a substantial reduction in our operating budget."
Asked whether the St. Paul Police Department is considering withdrawing, Sgt. Paul Schnell, a department spokesman, said Chief John Harrington "will make a decision on the department's involvement on the basis of a more complete and full picture of the way forward with regard to the Strike Force and its future."
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said, "We will make a decision after the [Strike Force Advisory] Board meeting. I share the same concern that Chief Dolan has regarding our focus. We would prefer that the Gang Strike Force continue with street level enforcement rather than moving to long-term investigations."
Omodt said Friday, "My focus is still long-term [investigations], but we would continue to have a faction that will work on street level gang crimes."
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said he believes the audit report is connected to the pullouts.
"If the withdrawal at this time is not related to this, it's an amazing coincidence," he said.
Campion is expected to announce at the Wednesday advisory board meeting the names of a former federal prosecutor and a retired FBI agent who will head an inquiry into the Strike Force.
Heffelfinger said he believes the scope of the investigation should be "rather broad."
"If they are merely directed to develop new internal controls, it is highly unlikely the investigation would seek out or identify any potential personal misconduct by the members of the Strike Force," he said.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382