FOREST LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — A Twin Cities suburb will soon become the largest city in the state without its own police department.
Forest Lake City Council members voted 3-2 to disband the police department and contract the work to Washington County.
Mayor Ben Winnick and councilors Mike Freer and Ed Eigner voted in favor of the contract. Councilors Mara Bain and Sam Husnik voted no.
The move will mean 23 officers lose their jobs. The change is estimated to save the city around $385,000 per year.
“No three idiots are gonna tell us what the hell to do. No way,” said resident Al Hauge who was one of the hundreds of people at the meeting supporting the police department. “We pay the taxes. We are the residents of this community and we will fight to keep our police officers.”
Hauge and several others lined the hallway outside the council chambers as officers walked out. Some police officers were in tears as supportive community members gave them hugs and handshakes of reassurance.
“We’re very blessed as officers to be loved by this community,” said Officer John Glader. When asked what he was going to do next he simply said, “Coming back to work tomorrow morning.”
Last weekend, city administrators met with police and their union in an emergency meeting lasting several hours. The two parties were negotiating a new contract and ended with a three year proposal. The police union held a vote Sunday and rejected the new offer.
“Personally I was extremely disappointed,” Mayor Winnick said during the council meeting. “This is a great offer, it was a great offer for the police department.” His remarks were met with boos, jeers, and calls for him to resign. Many people in the meeting started crying after the vote.
Councilor Husnik threw his water bottle in disgust after the final yes vote came down. He and councilor Bain stuck around to talk with reporters while Mayor Winnick and councilors Eigner and Freer left the building.
“We’re gonna be fighting this to the very, very end. It’s tearing this community apart,” said Husnik. “We’re not getting the same dollar for dollar (value). I don’t care what was said in there.”
Police Chief Rick Peterson only took one question from reporters saying, “Just want to thank all the community for all their support, the community has been fantastic. And we’ll continue to provide services, exceptional services to the City of Forest Lake as long as we’re working here.”
The contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office still needs to be approved by county commissioners. Councilor Bain said she was thankful that the sheriff’s office kept itself separated from the vote within Forest Lake, but she said now the ball is in the county’s court.
“They need to do the right thing or be prepared to sue the residents of Forest Lake when we cancel this contract in January 2019,” she said.
If the county approves the contract, the sheriff’s office would take control on September 1.
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