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New interim Farmington police chief discusses new role

Farmington interim Police Chief Gary Rutherford said his goal is to continue the relationship with the community, nurture and strengthen it. Kara Hildreth / Contributor

Interim Farmington Police Chief Gary Rutherford is focused on continuing to strengthen the faith between the community and public safety within the city.

Rutherford, 49, was chosen to lead the department when Farmington City Council approved a separation agreement in August with former chief Brian Lindquist.

"My primary focus since I was appointed the acting chief has been trying to keep everyone focused on looking forward ... we can't change what's already happened and so we are going to look forward from this point on and we are going to do what is best for the citizens and the city," Rutherford said.

Farmington Mayor Todd Larson said the council's decision to move ahead with hiring a full-time, permanent police chief will most likely be decided after the election in November.

"We do not have a plan and we are waiting for things to cool down and everybody to take a breath and we can think rationally," Larson said.

Joy in helping others

Rutherford entered law enforcement when he found a love of service after deciding to enter the young police explorers program while in high school.

"From that point on, I could not imagine doing anything else and that is the case with most people who get into this line of work," he said. "Once I got there, I loved it and I still have a lot of respect for Eagan PD — it is a great police department and that is where I got my feet wet."

Rutherford has more than 22 years serving in public safety as a police officer. He joined Farmington police in April 2002 and prior to that, he worked for Northfield police. He was promoted to sergeant in 2007.

"Nobody calls us when they are having a great day because we are getting calls when somebody's life has gone sideways in some way, shape or form, and you learn to deal with that and you learn to find the joy in helping people navigate those rough times in their lives whether they are victims, suspects or witnesses," Rutherford said.

Training to lead

"A big part of my career has been focused on training and instructing and SWAT work for about 13 years when I worked on MAG (Multi-Agency Assistance Group) on both departments," Rutherford said.

The MAG teams cover public safety in Dakota and Rice counties. SWAT teams become regional assets that can travel to other cities and assist with cases. He has a background and has taken part in hours of active shooter training.

"People have this impression that we love to bust people, but frankly the opposite is true." he said. "If I did not have to arrest anyone from now to the end of my career, that would be fine with me."

When asked what kind of management style he adopts, Rutherford said he is both stern and more relaxed, depending on what the situation may require.

"Overall, I am not a micromanager — I believe in hiring good people and training them well and equipping them properly and trusting them to do the job and that is part of the culture here," Rutherford said.

Wanting to foster a can-do attitude, Rutherford said he wants to empower the police department and grow stronger from the community support.

In the last three months, Rutherford has taken leadership classes in Eagan. Class topics discuss how police and community relations at the national level are strained. There is discussion that takes place about how to improve this perception and lack of trust between police and the public, even though that is not true or a reality in Farmington, Rutherford explained.

"We have a different relationship with our citizens than any other police department and that includes Lakeville, Apple Valley or Rosemount," he added.

Rutherford said the police tenure and experience has built a trusting culture within the community.

"It is a department of people who care about the city and all conduct themselves in a professional manner," Rutherford said. "We have been lucky because we have not had any issues and that is a testament to the culture here, the training we go through and the leadership."

The 23 sworn officers and three full-time administrative staff hold each other accountable and that is part of the department's culture.

Community support

After more than 300 community members showed up to gather more information in August and fight the separation agreement with the city and former police chief Lindquist, Rutherford said he was aware how the community strongly supports the police department.

"I have always, always bragged about the relationship we have had with the citizens of Farmington so to have seen it come out with the situation with Chief Lindquist I was not surprised by it," Rutherford said. "My goal right now is to continue to build the relationship with community and nurture that and even strengthen that."

"School safety is a hot-button topic right now and it has been for a number of years, and I would like to see more school resource officers because there is so much a school resource officer can do not from a law enforcement standpoint with connecting with the kids and disadvantaged kids to give them needed resources," he said.

Currently, Farmington police and the Farmington School District partner to employ one full-time school resource officer.

In 2018, City Council addressed goals for the Farmington Police Department to prioritize personnel, community outreach and to address facility maintenance and technology.

The Police Department will work with the council to implement a staffing study and develop five- and 10-year population projection to address staffing needs.

Farmington police will also work in partnership with the school district to determine if there is a need for another school resource officer. In terms of community outreach, the department will work to strengthen the police and school relationship to continue to develop a safe school environment. Farmington police will also develop a plan to increase security of all the school buildings and grounds.

The police department will continue to research new video evidence-gathering technology and research equipment to enable officers to access data in the field. The police department will continue to develop its communications notification plan using social media platforms.

In terms of technology, the police department is working to develop a new app to allow citizens an online reporting option.