A woman, Tawnja Wallace, was killed in particularly horrific, violent fashion in her downtown Crookston apartment early on Wednesday, May 3.

    A woman, Tawnja Wallace, was killed in particularly horrific, violent fashion in her downtown Crookston apartment early on Wednesday, May 3.

    Several hours after Polk County scanner communication late that morning first referenced the “Crookston homicide” and a search for a possible suspect who is huge - 6’4” tall, weighing 320 pounds – and was possibly armed and dangerous, possibly suicidal, possibly open to “suicide by cop” and possibly driving three different vehicles, the Crookston Police Department released some official information on the crime and indicated that the suspect, Eddie Frazier, had been spotted in Detroit Lakes. The CPD release went on to state that there was no reason to believe Frazier was armed, and that the public, at least in Crookston, was more than likely in no imminent danger.

   The lack of an immediate, definitive message to the public from the CPD much sooner that day in regard to how concerned local residents needed to be, or not be, was concerning to a handful of local residents who asked the Times afterward if the CPD had communicated at all Wednesday morning with the newspaper regarding any potential public safety concerns. Every person who spoke to the Times is a parent with children in the local schools.

    No, the CPD did not communicate with us. We got their release shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday and published it online immediately.

    So, should the CPD have erred more on the side of caution that day, even though, we’ve since learned, they were essentially 100 percent certain the man suspected of killing Wallace had left Crookston and was traveling further and further away from Crookston?

    Figuring the person leading the decision-making process the morning of May 3 could explain law enforcement’s thought process that day better than we could, we asked CPD Chief Paul Biermaier if he could detail the debate and decisions that transpire when awful things like Wallace’s murder occur and law enforcement needs to determine the level of danger, if any, to the public at large.

    Here’s what Biermaier had to say:

    • When it’s apparent a violent crime has been committed, the CPD first tries to determine if the victim was known by the suspect. “If they knew each other, the odds really drop as far as what kind of danger everyone else might be in,” he explained. “If it’s a heat of the moment kind of crime, it’s mostly going to be geared toward one person.”

    • Then, was any kind of weapon used? It was apparent last week that Wallace was not killed by a weapon, which would greatly diminish the chances of the man suspected of killing her leaving the scene with a weapon, Biermaier said.

    • Next up is determining the suspect’s local ties, or lack of such ties. If it’s a local person with a violent history, the CPD will get the word out immediately on a possible public danger, he said.

    • Geography came into play more than anything else on May 4, Biermaier said. Using pings from cell phone towers and other information they gleaned, local law enforcement knew early on that Frazier had left the area. He was spotted in Detroit Lakes, and people who had communicated with him said he’d indicated that he was heading for the Twin Cities, South Dakota or Arizona.

    Biermaier said if it’s obvious either way – there’s an immediate danger to the public or there clearly is no danger to the public – the CPD will alert the public immediately with information indicating either scenario. Last Wednesday, he said the CPD faced a dilemma: “We were quite sure the public here wasn’t in danger, so do we tell the public that right away? That’s when we have to decide.”

    Assuming on May 3 that Crookston residents were not in danger, the investigation immediately turned to “things we really needed to focus our attention on,” Biermaier said. But, he added, “Maybe I need to take a step back and say, ‘OK, even though I’m basically certain the public’s not in danger, what can I do to relay that? What should I do to relay that? Maybe we need a more uniform message when it comes to those situations.”

    Thankfully, the CPD doesn’t have to warn the public about dangerous people on the loose all that often. In fact, it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Last Wednesday, the CPD probably could have been more definitive in more rapid fashion regarding Frazier’s whereabouts and possible state of mind. Biermaier seems to realize this, so consider it a lesson learned, as law enforcement tries to err on the side of caution while also not causing needless panic.