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An open letter to the community

April 29, 2012
Messenger News

Recently a handful of incidents have brought to light potential and real issues that directly involved our department and staff. Our department has dealt with each issue in a professional and ethical manner, but because of administrative or legal reasons have not been able to openly share much of the information. The intent of this letter is to help our community understand the overall situation and processes.

Shortly after I arrived in 2010, I conducted internal and external assessments with the intent of defining our needs and goals. As a result of that work our leadership team identified three key goals: (1) develop and deliver top quality professional service, (2) enhance our relationship and effective communication with our community and (3) enhance staff performance through training and leadership development.

A critical component in communication with the community has been building and strengthening relationships with our media partners - both in Fort Dodge and the state. The plan included an expanded communication process by providing press releases on major incidents, direct interviews and coordinated public speaking opportunities - all with the intent of providing a clear view of our department operations and incidents that we handle. I believe that our efforts have been fruitful in helping our community better understand our capabilities and how we can work closely with citizens to make Fort Dodge as safe as possible.

Even with our intent to be as transparent, there have been a handful of incidents within the last few months that have cast a shadow over our department. They include two criminal investigations as well as allegations of misconduct by our staff. It is critical to point out that we have a specific process in place designed to work toward addressing complaints or allegations of criminal conduct - all while working toward the above three goals.

As an example, when our department receives an allegation of criminal conduct by one of our staff we immediately address it. Once there is sufficient cause to believe that one of our members has become the subject of a criminal investigation we request the assistance of our partners in the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to ensure transparency and independent review. Our department's dedicated staff fully supports the investigation for the same reason as the community - we want the best people serving in our ranks and work every day to make sure that is the case.

As with a criminal case, each employee is considered innocent until the facts of the case prove a violation. They are also entitled to administrative due process. That means that we treat each complaint seriously, but that the case is built and based on the facts. Investigations like this also take time - including conducting research, collecting evidence and interviews with the complainant, witnesses and others involved in the incident. It is important to understand that we do our best to detail the potential outcomes for the complainant as well as explaining the time frame required to properly investigate their concerns. Upon competition, we work to clearly explain the facts in a letter to the complainant and how we arrived at them. For personnel reasons, we do not disclose whether an employee was disciplined, but will indicate that a violation was dealt with.

It would be foolish to say that a criminal or administrative allegation of misconduct doesn't directly affect each person in our department. Like any close knit organization whose members rely upon each other for their safety and to provide professional service, it is heart wrenching to see a peer make a critical error in judgment. Our individual and collective integrity, professionalism and dedication to the community we serve overshadows those few who cross that line. Those same values are why we work so aggressively and publicly to address the allegations when they do arise.

The recent allegations or rumors of misconduct have been fostered by people who either did not formalize a complaint or were impatient that the investigation was not completed fast enough. This has been aggravated by a television station in Des Moines that chose to run two stories based on the one-sided information the complainant provided. In one case, even after our department attempted to explain the process and current status of the investigation, the story still ran. In the most recent case, a subject who declined to formalize a complaint chose instead to file suit against our department. Once a suit is filed, we are obligated to not discuss the case publicly - allowing the case to work through the justice process. Video and allegations were released by the complainant and aired by the same television station - even though we couldn't comment publicly on the case. These examples emphasize one of the biggest reasons we deeply appreciate our local media partners: The Messenger and Three Eagles Communications. In each instance where an investigation has come to light, our local media representatives have taken the time to do their research and to understand the situation before writing or airing a story. Our intent is to share as much of the information as possible.

In closing, it is our hope that this information will help each reader understand the actual process, our commitment to our values of integrity, character and professionalism; and our dedication to our community. Each of us commits to working every day to provide the service our citizens deserve and to make Fort Dodge as safe as possible. We want to thank everyone for their open mind, faith in our department and especially for their commitment to work with us as we continue to grow and develop.

Tim Carmody is the chief of police in Fort Dodge.



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