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Forest Lake Holds Open Meeting on Eliminating Police Department

April 18, 2017 10:23 PM

Forest Lake city leaders held an open meeting Monday night to hear from the public about who should oversee law enforcement in the city.

Hundreds of people showed up to share their opinions.  

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Some wore blue bands on their sleeves as a show of support for the city's police force. Others carried signs.

RELATED: Forest Lake Mayor: Eliminating Police Department Would Save $300K

Twenty-three officers on the Forest Lake force stand to lose their jobs if the city elects to turn to the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

That includes Capt. Greg Weiss. But he said he and his fellow officers have been bolstered by the show of support.

"We understand we do have the backing of the No. 1 thing any police officer out there would want and that is the support of the people we serve," Weiss said.

But Forest Lake Mayor Ben Winnick said it makes sense economically to turn law enforcement duties over to Washington County.

RELATED: Forest Lake Considers Closing Police Department, Contracting with Washington County

And it makes sense in other ways as well.

"Money is a factor, but it's not the only one by any means," Winnick said. "Another motivator is to provide better protection and services to the growing city. We're not a small town and we're struggling to maintain our police department."

Several residents surrounded the Mayor at Monday's meeting.

"Will you vote the way the community wants you to or vote the way you think you should," one asked.

"I'm (going to) vote what I feel is best for the community," he answered.  

Winnick called it an economically-efficient move because public safety accounts for 56 percent of the city's budget and handing that over would save $300,000 a year.

The proposal would add two more patrols - going from 23 to 25. And it would increase access to specialized services like a fraud unit and water patrol which the town doesn't have right now.

The deputies would be based in Forest Lake, meaning they would start and end their days patrolling in town. 

As for the officers losing their jobs, they could apply for a position with Washington County.

But some residents expressed concern that response times to calls would change.  

The full city council has to vote on the proposal. That could happen in early May. 

Credits

Beth McDonough

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