St. Anthony prepares for police services contract break with Falcon Heights


With the impending end of its police contract with Falcon Heights, St. Anthony Village has budgeted for a smaller police force in 2018. Mike Munzenrider/Review

Early 2018 budget calls for smaller police force

 

The St. Anthony Police Department currently staffs four officers for contracted law enforcement services in Falcon Heights, but the size of the police force is set to change.

Since the July 6, 2016, killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, shot to death during a traffic stop by St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez, the decades-long relationship between the two cities has become increasingly strained. 

Yanez was found not guilty of manslaughter in Ramsey County District Court for killing Castile, the verdict coming June 16.

The situation reached a tipping point earlier this year when the 

St. Anthony City Council passed a resolution seeking to renegotiate the policing contract, shifting liability for police actions within Falcon Heights city limits to the contract city.

It’s likely St. Anthony will only police Falcon Heights through the end of the year — either city looks poised to use an opt-out clause in the contract by a mid-July deadline.

How will this looming change shape the police department in coming years? 

St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey said the city is preparing for a future without Falcon Heights, and has already factored it into its budgetary plans for next year. 

 

Fewer officers

 St. Anthony dedicates approximately 49 percent of its annual budgeted general fund expenses to operating its police department, which, since the 1990s, has also served Lauderdale and Falcon Heights. According to Casey, in 2017, the city allocated funds for 23 officers, while its preliminary budget for 2018 only includes provisions for 20 officers. 

That staffing reduction, he noted, is directly correlated to the fact that Falcon Heights is likely to use another police agency next year — it’s currently in preliminary talks with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.

“The proposed 2018 budget was drafted in anticipation of not being in a contractual police services agreement with Falcon Heights,” Casey said. 

He pointed out that the draft budget for 2018 still needs to be approved by the City Council as part of the preliminary levy, a decision that won’t be made until September.

Speaking before the Yanez verdict came down, Casey said that two officers have — “or will have” — handed in their resignations, and one officer is expected to retire by the end of the year.

St. Anthony statement released last than an hour after the verdict  was announced said that Yanez would be given a “voluntary separation agreement.”

 

Why leave?

 Castile’s killing sparked public protests and skepticism of the St. Anthony Police Department. 

While Falcon Heights city officials largely stood by and defended the law enforcement agency with whom they had contracted for some 20 years, some residents and outside activist groups called for an end to the city’s relationship with the department. 

It wasn’t that pressure that made Falcon Heights begin to look elsewhere for its law enforcement needs — it was St. Anthony’s resolution about renegotiating the police contract.

 

Liability costs

 For 2017, Falcon Heights paid St. Anthony $672,500 for police services. 

At the time of the St. Anthony resolution, Casey said the unbudgeted expenses for his city, stemming from the July 6 shooting, had reached more than $560,000. 

Going forward, St. Anthony wanted Falcon Heights to be liable for the actions of St. Anthony police officers within the city of Falcon Heights, a desire that St. Anthony City Council members framed as a fiscally responsible move, protecting city taxpayers.

Outraged by the resolution, Falcon Heights issued a “request for interest” to local police departments for police services. 

Only the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office responded with interest. 

 ‘Able to grow’

 Though according to Casey, “the contract is done at cost” and doesn’t turn a profit, the contracts with Falcon Heights and Lauderdale have allowed St. Anthony to grow its entire police department over the years, as overhead and administrative costs are factored into the contract pricing. 

In past interviews, retired St. Anthony police Chief John Ohl, former Capt. Dominic Cotroneo and current Chief Jon Mangseth have gone out of their way to talk about the significance and benefit of the contracts with Lauderdale and Falcon Heights.

“I’ll never forget first getting the Falcon Heights and Lauderdale contracts,” Ohl said in a 2016 interview prior to his retirement. “That really changed the course of the department,” he went on. “We were able to grow; it benefited our schedules, and we were able to get some extra training and diversification that might not have happened otherwise.”

 

- Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. 

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