Metro Gang Strike Force Implodes
The creation of special units within police agencies, or strike forces made up of officers from a number of agencies, are common responses to address specific forms of criminal activity such as organized crime, drug trafficking and serial property crimes.
The concept of a special unit or strike force is sound from an investigative and enforcement perspective. It facilitates the sharing and exchange of information, assists in the co-ordination of enforcement efforts and may create the synergy and critical mass required to address certain forms of criminal activity.
Special units and strike forces are often viewed as ‘elite’ units both internally and externally. They normally operate from a distinct location separate and apart from normal police operations. They tend to operate under a limited and distinct mandate which is usually quite narrow. They normally use different, in some cases unique and innovative, approaches to achieve their mandate. They are often issued with different, in many cases ‘better’ equipment in terms of uniforms (in the case of identifiable units), firearms, vehicles, communications devices, and the like. All this adds to the perception of being an elite unit.
Special units and strike forces are often staffed by officers who have earned a reputation for achieving results. Some of these officers do a balancing act in terms of tip-toeing along the fine line that separates legitimate aggressive enforcement and non-sanctioned (and in some cases illegal) activity. At times what is seen as the need to get the job done may overshadow ethical and legal concerns and restraints. When this happens the unit or strike force invariably implodes.
A recent example is the collapse of the Metro Gang Strike Force. This Strike Force was primarily staffed by officers from the Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments, and the Ramsay County Sheriff’s Office. The Strike Force was disbanded in July of this year and the FBI is currently investigating possible criminal conduct by some Strike Force members.
The activities of the Strike force were examined by a state panel co-chaired by Andy Luger. The panel concluded that as many as 12 members of the 34 members of the Strike Force had committed crimes. The panel identified activities such as improper warrantless searches, improper seizure of property, and the conversion of seized property to personal use.
Unlike the Canadian funding model where special units are usually fully funded up-front by one (or a combination) of the three levels of government the, American model encourages ‘self funding’. This requires the seizure of evidence (assets) that are converted to cash to fund the unit. This practice is fraught with the possibility of corruption. This practice has been identified as a concern in the Minneapolis case.
The following are some basic guidelines that should be applied when creating a stand-alone ad hoc unit or strike force:
- Avoid creating a special unit or task force that is viewed by others or sees itself as elite
- Fully fund the unit at start-up to avoid the need for ‘self funding’
- Create clear lines of accountability to either a designated office or position within one of the contributing agencies or to a steering committee that represents all the participating agencies
- Make the unit subject to existing policy and procedures to reinforce the importance and needs for accountable ethical behavior
- Establish a clear mandate
- Require the approval of operational plans
- Ensure strategies and tactics are ethically and legally sound
- Have a well thought-out staffing plan when selecting personnel to staff the unit