GRAND FORKS -- Those wishing to make a charitable contribution to the Grand Forks Police Department will, for the first time, be able to do so as soon as next week, when the new Grand Forks Police Department Fund becomes functional.
GFPD Lt. Derik Zimmel said that, in the past, when the department has been approached by someone wanting to donate to local police, he's often had to turn them away, since the department hasn't had a mechanism to transparently accept donations.
"A lot of times, it's been my job to track people down and say, 'Look, we appreciate the monetary contribution, but we can't accept it, so the choice is yours. You can either take the money back, or I can turn it into City Hall, where it goes into the general fund,'" Zimmel said. "Not surprisingly, they take the money back and find other charitable contributions."
The fund has been established through the Community Foundation, a Greater Grand Forks nonprofit that serves as a mechanism to distribute charitable funds in the community. Other organizations that have set up funds through the Community Foundation include the Empire Arts Center, the Longest Table, the Circle of Friends Humane Society and the Community Violence Intervention Center. (Forum Communications, which owns the Herald, also has a community art fund through the Community Foundation.)
In no way is the police department soliciting funds, Zimmel emphasized. He said the fund was created to address what appeared to be a public interest in donating to the department, while ensuring funds were used fairly and transparently.
"We wanted to make sure there was not the appearance of impropriety," he said. "The police department has no direct control over those funds, and oversight of those funds were entirely comprised of civilians, of people who have no association with the police department."
The fund will be overseen by a citizen committee made up of five members of the Grand Forks Police Department Citizen's Academy Alumni. Zimmel will also have a non-voting seat on the committee.
Sue Bjornstad, the Citizen's Academy Alumni chair, said the committee expects to meet five times annually to review grant applications submitted by the police department. She said she envisions the fund supporting projects such as the K-9 program, youth outreach programs and community celebrations. Donors will also have the option to specify what they would project they would like their contribution to go toward.
"We'll try to find programs that the community would like to support," Bjornstad said. "Now that we've got the fund, now we can start dreaming about what opportunities are out there to enhance and make sure our police officers have everything that they need to have."
Zimmel said the idea has been in the works for more than a year. Work formally began to establish the fund after the police department's most recent annual retreat in January.
At the city council meeting Monday night, July 13, GFPD Chief Mark Nelson also told the council that the fund has been reviewed and approved by both former city attorney Howard Swanson and his recently appointed replacement, Dan Gaustad.
Nelson also told the council that the Grand Forks Police Department Fund is separate from the Cody Holte Memorial Fund, set up through First State Bank for the family of GFPD Officer Cody Holte, who was killed in the line of duty in May.
The Grand Forks Police Department Fund will become functional following an introductory meeting of the fund committee next week. After that, interested donors will be able to send donations to Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region, 620 DeMers Ave., Grand Forks, ND 58201, or contribute online at gofoundation.org/give-fund.
Though the fund is not yet formally functional, it has already received its first donation, said Becca Baumbach, executive director of the Community Foundation. The Northwest Minnesota Foundation has given the Community Foundation $5,000 in honor of Holte and George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May. The donation was split equally between the Human Rights Endowment and the Grand Forks Police Department Fund.
"It's quite fitting that the establishing gift of the fund was in honor of Cody Holte," she said.