Falcon Heights break with St. Anthony PD imminent

Contract for police service still in place, for now

 

It’s a foregone conclusion that St. Anthony Village will not police Falcon Heights beyond the end of the year, if not yet official.

Falcon Heights is in discussions with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office for police service in 2018, and St. Anthony’s preliminary budget for next year funds a smaller police force, anticipating its officers will not be in Falcon Heights, anymore.

However, neither city has exercised the opt-out clause in the police contract, which must be done prior to July 15.

Both cities came under heavy scrutiny following the police killing of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, during a July 6, 2016, traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

 

He was shot to death by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was charged with second-degree manslaughter for the killing. Yanez was found not guilty June 16, following a jury trial in Ramsey County District Court.

Within an hour of the verdict, St. Anthony announced it was parting ways with Yanez.

 

Liability shift leads to break

Falcon Heights has contracted with St. Anthony for police services since the mid-1990s, and in the months following the shooting, it seemed like the cities’ relationship would weather the fallout.

The Falcon Heights City Council was unequivocal in its support of the St. Anthony Police Department despite calls from many to end or renegotiate the police contract. 

Former and current St. Anthony police chiefs had extolled the value of the department’s contracts — it also contracts to police Lauderdale — crediting the deals with allowing the force to grow and be better trained.

The relationship was turned on its head March 28 when the St. Anthony City Council unanimously passed a resolution to renegotiate the contract with Falcon Heights, seeking to shift liability for all police actions inside Falcon Heights, to Falcon Heights.

Council members forcefully defended the move as being fiscally responsible — City Manager Mark Casey said at the time that St. Anthony was out $566,000 in unbudgeted expenses related to the shooting. For 2017 policing, Falcon Heights is paying $762,000.

The Falcon Heights City Council convened a special meeting April 5 to respond. The exasperated council, at times cheered on by meeting attendees, said the shift in liability was unacceptable, and moved to put out a letter of interest to other area law enforcement agencies for police service.

Required by law to provide police service to cities within the county, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office was the only agency to show any interest.

 

Contract talks

Beyond Yanez’s dismissal from the St. Anthony police force, Casey said one resignation and one retirement were expected from members of the force, before next year. 

City Administrator Sack Thongvanh was authorized by the Falcon Heights City Council June 14 to move forward with negotiations with the sheriff’s office. 

While the potential costs of police service for Falcon Heights aren’t yet known, the June 14 move essentially gives Sheriff Jack Serier the ability to use his resources to work on more concrete plans.

Falcon Heights has the option to either contract directly with RCSO, or to join the Contract Cities Group, the seven Ramsey County suburbs policed by the sheriff’s office.

Thongvanh said he, along with Mayor Peter Lindstrom and council member Randy Gustafson, who works in communications and crime prevention for the sheriff’s office, met with the group, made up of Arden Hills, Gem Lake, Little Canada, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township, on June 22.

The meeting served as an opportunity for the city to introduce itself, Thongvanh said, adding that if it wanted to, the Contract Cities Group could decline to include Falcon Heights.

The city has taken a hard look at its community values and expectations when it comes to policing, forming a Falcon Heights Inclusion and Policing Task Force, which recently made recommendations about policing to the city council.

Thongvanh said RCSO is mindful of this, and future community engagement events are in the works.

“The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office wants to make sure that they’re in tune with the community and its needs and wants for police service,” he said.

 

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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