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Bismarck officers reportedly not reinstated

About 50 people attended a Bismarck city meeting Thursday night where the main interest of the city residents was whether or not the board of aldermen would allow the new police chief to keep his job and if the city police officers who turned in their resignations last month, only to quickly rescind them, would be reinstated to the force.

During a brief open session, Attorney Michael Randazzo — who provided representation for the six officers in the August meeting — addressed the board with his plan to improve the resolution of police department issues faster and more effectively.

Randazzo was introduced by Mayor Seth Radford who said he had spoken to the attorney and wanted him to share his plan with the board. The attorney made it clear he was not speaking to the board as a representative of the police officers who had resigned. Instead, he hoped to help the city and department from facing similar issues in the future.

“I put together a proposal I think, if the city will take it seriously, will go a long way to make sure that a situation like happened recently doesn’t happen again,” he said. “It’s five different points that I think are all important. I’m going to go through them all and then if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them.”

Point one was the passage of an ordinance creating a police oversight committee, police department review board or police department internal affairs commission.

Randazzo said, “The purpose of that committee, board or commission would be to approve procedures within the department with regard to citizen complaints; make recommendations to the board of aldermen and the police chief regarding police department policies and procedures; work as a liaison and intermediary between the board of aldermen, the police department and citizens; to review internal disciplinary actions taken by the police chief prior to the next scheduled board meeting with the ability to continue or rescind any action that was taken unilaterally by the chief.

“They will also be given to investigate internal wrongdoing within the department to allow for an unbiased investigation of allegations made and the actions taken or not taken by the police officers. That would be any police officer, including the chief.”

Point two regarded the handling of complaints involving the police department.

Randazzo said, “Bismarck shall receive complaints both internal and external in a written format and have a standardized form for such complaints. The complaints will be handled by the committee, board or commission. The committee will then report back to the complainant with the results of the investigation and recommendations that can be made both to the complainant and the city for improvement of that situation.

“Disciplinary actions taken by the chief of police will be documented by a written report detailing the specific policy or directive that was violated and the facts that were alleged to have caused the employee to violate that policy or directive. I would recommend that the city have two official personnel files on each officer — one the city can keep for itself and one the police chief will keep. There would only be one file kept on the police chief, but it would be kept at city hall. In there would be any disciplinary actions that need to be taken against the chief.”

Point three regarded informing the officer in writing of the disciplinary action.

Randazzo said, “Police officers who are being disciplined must be provided with a copy of their disciplinary report of what the violation was, and all documents created during the investigation must be signed by the officer so they can’t say they did not know why they got suspended.”

Point four dealt with the procedure’s exclusivity.

Randazzo said, “Complaints against police or the police department shall be initiated exclusively by the procedure described above. That means it is the only way to make complaints. It makes the process at least more clear. Everyone can do it that way. It gives them at least somewhere to go by streamlining the process and they don’t have to go to the mayor or aldermen to express their grievances”

Point five was about community outreach.

Randazzo said, “This plan I just described will not work at all unless this part happens too. The police department and the city will begin handing out information concerning the procedure at community events to make them familiar with them and let them know who they need to go to if they have a complaint or problem.”

Randazzo suggested that the committee, board or commission be made up of people not in city government or related to them. He suggested they have some knowledge of law enforcement but would not necessitate that they are or have been in law enforcement themselves.

Following Randazzo’s presentation, he received the thanks of Mayor Radford and the board.

Next, city resident Carolyn Elam read a letter aloud to the board chastising the mayor and aldermen for the way in which they had handled the conflict between Police Chief Steven Poole and six part-time officers. She presented a signed and notarized petition signed by city residents asking for Poole’s dismissal and the reinstatement of the officers who resigned from the police department.

The board went into closed session for approximately three hours during which time they met with city worker John Graham, spoke with the officers who resigned and met with Chief Poole. At approximately 10:30 p.m., the board went back into open session.

Mayor Radford said there was no decisions made to be announced at that time. While the city made no official announcement, several of the former police officers stated that they had been told in closed session that they would not be reinstated to their jobs.

After the mayor was asked if this was true, City Attorney Dan Fall said that minutes from the closed session would be available to the press within 72 hours after the meeting’s conclusion.

Attorney Michael Randazzo presents a five-point plan to the Bismarck Board of Aldermen he hopes will avoid future conflicts like those experienced over the past few months in the city's police department.

Attorney Michael Randazzo presents a five-point plan to the Bismarck Board of Aldermen he hopes will avoid future conflicts like those experienced over the past few months in the city’s police department.

Mayor Seth Radford speaks to the crowd during the lengthy meeting Thursday night. 

Mayor Seth Radford speaks to the crowd during the lengthy meeting Thursday night. 

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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