Forest Lake, MN - The Forest Lake City Council voted 3 - 2 to disband its police department at its meeting on Monday. That leaves 25 sworn police officers out of a job.
According to Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the city council then voted to contract police services with the Washington County Sheriff's Office. The cost saved? $387,000.
Weeks of heated community protests and petitions opposing the move preceded the Council's move. Hundreds of people attended the meeting, which was a continuation of last week's five-hour long meeting.
On Tuesday, May 8, the outrage strengthened with as many as 1,000 students walking out of afternoon classes at Forest Lake Area High School. They marched to City Hall to show their support for their police department.
The school district said that it didn't sanction the protest. Coordination of the protest began Tuesday morning via social media. The protest was peaceful, with students chanting and holding signs that read "our choice, our city, our cops."
District spokesman Ross Bennett said that "we respect their feelings." He said "They're kids who feel strongly about this as an issue and see what's happening in their community."
The city of Forest Lake has 19,000 residents. There are four school resource officers assigned to Forest Lake schools, including one at the high school. Bennett said that the officers who are assigned to the schools "are very active in the schools', according to The Star Tribune.
FLP Chief Rick Peterson said that the students' support for police was "overwhelming and appreciated."
As soon as the Council voted on Monday night, residents began loudly yelling and booing. The meeting adjourned within seconds.
Mayor Ben Winnick said after the meeting that 'a large crowd was expected, but not the hostile reactions.' I'd like to know what kind of reaction he expects when an officer's livelihood is taken away from him, and he has no immediate way of providing for his family.
The mayor, who led the push for disbanding the police department, said that the vote was 'difficult but necessary'. He said the move was "an opportunity for the city and the county to work together for the mutual benefit of our residents by saving them a significant amount of money and providing increased patrol and depth of services that we, as a city, could not provide for them."
Under the five-year agreement with the WCSO, Forest Lake will pay a total of $2.9 million annually for law enforcement services.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office is expected to begin operations with Forest Lake on September 1. The agreement still has to be approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners. No date for that vote has been set.
Council member Maria Bain, who voted against the proposal, said that she hopes the Washington County Commissioners "will do the right thing for the majority of Forest Lake residents." She said:
"We expect them to listen to our clear voices and reject this ridiculous contract. They need to look at it not just from a law enforcement perspective, but as a countywide public policy perspective. Now is the time they need to respect the wishes of Forest Lake residents and recognize that this is not a contract that the residents intend on keeping.”
A petition was started for Winnick's removal as mayor shortly after Monday's vote.
The mayor said that part of the proposal included language encouraging the WCSO to 'establish a preference' for hiring the Forest Lake police officers. He said that they were concerned, and not just throwing the officers to the curb. Except their "concern" doesn't guarantee a single job for any of the officers.
Monday's vote came after last-minute discussions between the city and two police unions, where an agreement could not be reached. The city's latest offer, which came less than 48 hours before the vote, did away with 'key policies based on seniority within the department, medical leave and health insurance benefits officers stood to receive at retirement.'
Offers of mediation were rejected by the city.