Farmington Police Chief Gary Rutherford is working a plan to prepare the department for the potential retirement of four veteran officers in the next four to five years.
He spoke about this and other department goals during a planning session with Farmington City Council on Friday, Feb. 7, at city hall.
From February 2024 to 2025, the department could lose about 120 years of experience and institutional knowledge, Rutherford explained, with the potential eligible retirements of Rutherford, Deputy Chief of Police Jim Constantineau and longtime Dets. Sgt. Jim Murphy and Mark Sungren.
“One of the concerns I have with losing four people in those 12 months is that number one – four people in a span of 12 months and for a department our size is significant anyway but those four positions that are vital and critical positions, particularly the detective and the detective sergeant,” Rutherford said.
Sungren has been working in this position for more than 10 years. Rutherford said: “It is the only detective position that we don’t rotate people through because I have always had the belief in the department that we should have one guy who is our go-to-guy if we have a case that we need to have investigated.”
The department’s rotating detective will be rotating out at about the same time, Rutherford said.
“Our entire investigations divisions is going to be turning over, and it is going to require a lot of advanced planning and training and preparation to make sure that goes smoothly,” Rutherford said.
The department will need to find a police sergeant to take the baton from Murphy. Rutherford said he will focus on having people ready internally to take over for himself and the deputy police chief.
The number of veteran police staff department over the years has led to a strong overall department, Rutherford said.
“It is a good problem to have, and I don’t see the stress that I see in a lot of my peers,” Rutherford said. “I already have a good start on this because I have met with all the sergeants in the last couple weeks for performance reviews and I put feelers out about who is looking at advancement and I have some ideas in my head so we are prepared.”
Mission, vision, values
Another goal will be articulating a mission, vision and values statement for the police department.
“The mission is what we do and the vision is where we are going in the next few years and values is who are we, and the last time our department did anything like this was 30 years ago. We are a significantly different department than we were then and law enforcement has changed a lot,” he said.
Rutherford envisions discussion can take place at an annual supervisory retreat when a vision and values document can be created along with goals.
“I can get their attention for a day and work on things like mission, vision and values, but I don’t want this to be just my thoughts and ideas because we have a very cohesive department and they need to have buy-in to who we are and where we are going and we need to be all pulling in the same direction,” Rutherford said.
Another goal would be for the department to fully develop a domestic review response team.
“As many of you know, about six or eight months ago we had a victims advocate from 360 Communities that offices out of police headquarters once a week, and it has been very eye opening to have her available to us on a regular basis. There is more we can be doing for domestic assault victims and domestic assault issues in the community and it requires a more focused effort,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford explained he is grateful his department is part of a wellness program to encourage staff to improve physical and mental health.
The program asks staff to be a part of annual consultations.
“We are receiving a ton of really good comments back even from some cops that I didn’t think and I think they are finding it helpful. It is one of those things that for many years we have minimized the effects of repetitive emotional trauma on ourselves – we internalize it because we have a job to do, but it is tough and there is cumulative effect,” Rutherford said.
Jennifer Gabbard, the city’s human resource director, said she heard potential new hires ask if the city offered a wellness program during interviews in the past week.
“It is really interesting and helpful that the department offers this, and it is a great thing for the community to have well adjusted, wonderful police officers that are even better,” Gabbard said.
Mayor Todd Larson asked if the fire department is taking advantage of a wellness program. Gabbard said this is not in the budget.
“It is pretty important because they see some gruesome things, too,” Larson said.
A counseling center in Lakeville provides wellness checks.
“They do specialize in law enforcement and public safety wellness,” Rutherford said.
Council Member Joshua Hoyt, who leads a suicide awareness and support group in Farmington, said Dakota County employs a devoted position to support suicide awareness across the county, and there may be funding available for Farmington.
Each year the police department leads annual community outreach events like the new Pink Patch Project to raise money for cancer research, the Farmington Community Expo, Toys for Town, the Citizens Academy every other year, and the annual Night to Unite neighborhood block parties.
Rutherford’s goal this year will be to assign each department the task of leading one outreach event with a sergeant overseeing the community activity.
Kara Hildreth can be reached at email@example.com.