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Grand Forks police chief reflects on career, department looks forward to changes

As the Grand Forks Police Department’s chief of 16 years says his farewell, the department is on the verge of changes, including finishing its national accreditation process.

Chief John Packett announced his retirement last month, and while he’s officially leaving his post March 1, he’ll be out of the office and replaced by an interim chief startingMonday.

Capt. Mike Kirby will serve as interim chief at least until the end of the department’s national accreditation process, which will finish in June or July, said Todd Feland, city administrator.

The department has already started the process with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Packett said. The accreditation is just to further ensure that the department is capable and holds a high standard, he said.

In reflecting on his departure, Packett said, “You always want to leave an organization better than you found it, and I don’t know if we’re better, but I certainly didn’t screw it up.

“I inherited a department that was talented and ready for the next challenges,” Packett said. “I just happened to be the one that came at the right time to lead them towards it.”

Experiences as chief

Of Packett’s experiences as Grand Forks police chief since 1997, he said probably the most memorable case was the Dru Sjodin case.

In November 2003, Sjodin was kidnapped in Grand Forks and murdered by Alfonso Rodriguez, a high-risk sex offender who lived in Crookston, Minn., at the time.

The case received the most attention of any while Packett was chief, he said.

“When we broke that case, we had 12 satellite (media) trucks parked around (the police station) for a couple weeks,” Packett said.

At one point, there were 125 investigators working on the case full time in the basement of the Grand Forks police station, he said.

“But you look back on it, and you take a lot of satisfaction from where it was really a model of cooperation, to where you had local, state and federal officials working on a case of major importance. Because of all those resources, it came together relatively quick,” he said.

Another one of Packett’s most memorable moments as chief wasn’t part of a criminal case.

A few years ago, Packett was sitting in a City Council meeting when an older man asked him if he was the police chief.

When Packett said he was, the man told him, “You’re doing a great job because nobody knows who you are.”

Packett laughed, and said that he prefers that his staff and officers who work more directly with citizens are better known than he is.

“I would guess that my departure from the city will be pretty seamless,” he said.

The next steps

The city will seek a permanent replacement for Packett after Kirby is finished as interim chief, in up to six months, Feland said.

Packett said he thinks there are several good officers already in the department that will be competitive for the job.

At last Tuesday’s Grand Forks City Council Service/Safety meeting, council members praised Packett for his work.

“When issues came up, you dealt with them and you dealt with them accordingly,” said council member Terry Bjerke.

Council member Ken Vein added that Packett came to Grand Forks “at a critical time,” right after the 1997 flood.

Packett, 65, said he’ll be retiring to Omaha, Neb., where his two daughters live with his grandchildren. He looks forward to spending time with his family and will transition to working in private security.

“I can honestly say I've been blessed that I’ve enjoyed getting up every day and going to this job, because every day is different,” Packett said. “I continue to look forward to that type of challenge.”

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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