West Fargo Police Chief Heith Janke, ’02, to resign, returning to FBI

Police Chief Heith Janke will resign from the West Fargo department at the end of April after accepting an offer to be reinstated as an FBI agent.

“It’s a hard decision, but it has been truly an honor to lead the West Fargo police department and such an awesome team,” Janke told the Pioneer Wednesday, April 1. “The department proudly serves every day and they do a phenomenal job. I have no doubts they will not miss a beat and continue to take care of the West Fargo residents every day. ”

City Spokeswoman Melissa Richard said the City Commission plans to appoint Assistant Police Chief Jerry Boyer as interim chief at its April 20 meeting, and the appointment will take effect following Janke’s departure on April 24.

The reinstatement as an FBI Agent will allow 44-year-old Janke to return to working in the field once again, something he said he feels is the right decision for him personally at this time in his law enforcement career.

Before coming to West Fargo, the Madison, S.D., native had worked for the FBI since 2005, and since 2013 in its Kansas City office, where he has supervised more than 400 cases. Janke also worked for the FBI in San Antonio and Washington, D.C. Before joining the FBI, Janke was an associate attorney in Sioux Falls, S.D. He earned his undergraduate degree from North Dakota State University, where he was a standout in track. He then earned a law degree from the University of North Dakota.

Janke replaced former Police Chief Mike Reitan in July 2017 who was asked to resign due to allegations from within the department of poor morale and department dysfunction since he took over as chief in 2014.

On his first day at the helm, Janke told the Pioneer, his main priority would be to bring back a sense of family to the department.

“I just want to build back that feeling of family and teamwork to the department,” Janke said at the time. “There are great men and women that serve the public in this department. I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to have all the resources they need available to them.”

He kept his promises, waiting 90 days to suggest any structural changes to the department, giving himself time to meet and get to know all the staff within the department individually. He then began to hire additional staff, including the city’s first cultural liaison officer. The West Fargo Police Department has grown from 49 sworn officers, 12 civilian staff and five volunteers in 2017 to now include room to hire 65 officers with a total staff of 78.

“I feel I accomplished most of the goals I have set out. I came in to the department not knowing what to expect, or what had transpired,” he said. “What I found was truly an incredible group of people who work together with a great community.”

City Administrator Tina Fisk, said while it is sad Janke is leaving, she doesn’t regret her recommendation to hire him in 2017.

“When Heith was hired, I knew from the background he came from and his leadership experience, he would do an amazing job but that didn’t even come close to the work he did,” Fisk said. “He’s so professional, his personality, sense of humor and his ability to bring everyone together is exceptional. His passion and compassion brought everyone together again, It’s going to be a tough void to fill. He’s a mentor and a leader, he’ll be greatly missed.”

On April 1, Janke was hesitant to take credit for bringing in a sense of camaraderie to the department. Janke said the department organized and hired officers to catch the department up with the fast rowing city and used data and technology to grow its services.

“Every employee has given me their all the entire almost three years,” he said. “It is one big family that does exceptional work every day.”

But, it was not without community support that the department has been successful, Janke said.

“To the community of West Fargo, I want to thank them for their relationships and how we work together as one community and one police department. The fact we are the safest city in North Dakota the past three years is because of them. It wouldn’t happen without helps from our residents. ”

As the city continues to deal with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Janke said the timing of his departure is not ideal but he is confident West Fargo will continue to stay safe and well in this crisis. As of April 1, no police or firefighters had tested positive for the disease at a time when the numbers of many first responders and public safety personnel are reporting positive cases across the country.

“The timing of this may not appear optimal, but when you receive orders to report back to the federal government, you’re bound to them,” Janke said. “I have no hesitation that the department is not all ready and will continue to deal with COVID 19 and helping the community stay safe and healthy. I’d rather not have this in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t have a lot of control in that, but I also have full faith everyone will get through this and be fine. ”

Boyer has already been working as the department’s public information officer and has been in charge of the police pandemic planning to make sure employees are taken care of and officers are able to respond to residents in time of need.

The city will open applications up from internal and external candidates from across the country, Richard said.

“We were incredibly lucky to have had him for three years, that is for sure,” Richard said.

Commissioner Mike Thorstad, who handles the police portfolio said in an email to staff, “I”m sorry he is leaving but deeply indebted to him for the wonderful job he did restructuring and rebuilding the department. He is a quality guy and a true professional.”

Fargo Police Department has grown from 49 sworn officers, 12 civilian staff and five volunteers in 2017 to now include room to hire 65 officers with a total staff of 78.

“I feel I accomplished most of the goals I have set out. I came in to the department not knowing what to expect, or what had transpired,” he said. “What I found was truly an incredible group of people who work together with a great community.”

Original Story: by Wendy Reuer, Apr 1st 2020