FOREST LAKE, Minn. -- A debate is brewing over who should protect and serve the city of Forest Lake.
The city is considering disbanding its police department and handing over duties to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Last week, Forest Lake Mayor Ben Winnick and City Administrator Aaron Parrish sent a letter to Sheriff Bill Hutton requesting a proposal from the county for providing law enforcement services.
The letter started off by saying, "As you may be aware, the Washington County Sheriff's Office previously provided service to Forest Lake Township prior to the merger of the City and Township. We often hear about the quality of service provided to our residents while the Sheriff's Office served our community."
Forest Lake already partners with the Washington County Sheriff's Office and other agencies for services including dispatch, radios and records management.
Mara Bain, a Forest Lake city council member, said she was surprised by the news. According to Bain, the decision to request a proposal was made by the Personnel Committee which includes two out of the four city council members.
"We've known that police budget and funding has always been a challenge but to go to this step without first kind of defining what are the decision criteria, what are the service standards that we want as a community, seems a bit premature. It feels like we are shopping before we really know what it is that we are shopping for," Bain said.
The city of Newport made the switch to Washington County more than a year ago. According to the city, the county provides law enforcement services for about $700,000 per year. It saves the city about $170,000 per year. All five employees at Newport Police now work for the sheriff's office.
But the Newport Police Department was five times smaller than Forest Lake's department of 25 full-time officers and two administrative assistants. Forest Lake police cover 36 square miles in a city with a population of more than 18,000.
"I'm not aware of a recent situation where you have a community such as Forest Lake with a well-functioning department that has just decided to make this change," Bain said.
In a statement, the city said, "The City of Forest Lake has a great police department with amazing officers who are dedicated to serving our community. Asking for a proposal does not mean there are any issues related to the department or its officers."
"Our community has a lot of questions. People, some are angry," Bain said.
The city also said once the city receives the proposal, the Forest Lake City Council will begin the evaluation process. This will include opportunities for the public to weigh in.
KARE 11 reached out to the Forest Lake Police Department; they referred KARE back to the city. KARE also tried contacting the three other city council members and mayor and have not heard back.
City council will further discuss the matter during their meeting tonight, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.
No decision has been made but if it got to that point, it would require a vote from city council.
You can find out more, here.