FOREST LAKE, Minn. - Hundreds of students from Forest Lake walked out of class Tuesday afternoon to protest Monday night's vote by the city council to disband the police department.
Students from both the middle and high school marched out at 1:15 p.m. and headed to City Hall, where they chanted "FLPD!" outside the city council chambers.
About an hour later, students made their way into the council chambers where they continued their protest.
Forest Lake Police Chief Richard Peterson said he was moved to see such a large crowd of young people in the community coming out to show their support.
"This is absolutely amazing," he said. "The students are fantastic. The community is fantastic. We are absolutely humbled by the support we've been given, really appreciate it."
Peterson said they will continue to serve and provide police services throughout the city until they are officially disbanded.
Reaction has been swift and emotional in the wake of Monday night's vote, which opted to contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Office for public safety services and coverage.
A petition to impeach or recall Mayor Ben Winnick had gathered more than 1,600 signatures as of 2:30 p.m.
Winnick was roundly booed Monday night as he cast the deciding vote, making it 3-2 in favor of the controversial change. The agreement is for a five-year term beginning in January of 2018, but the city says the sheriff's office is expected to begin providing services in September.
The mayor asked to make a statement following the vote, but residents booed and catcalled him so ferociously that Winnick called for a vote to end the meeting instead.
The proposal approved by the council includes language encouraging the sheriff's office to give preferential consideration to the current Forest Lake police officers if they hire new deputies.
The agreement still needs to be approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners. That meeting has not been scheduled.
The Forest Lake Police Officers Union issued a statement on Monday after the vote, saying they had rejected a Saturday offer from the city that would have cut key benefits for police officers.
The union said they had hoped both sides could return to the bargaining table, but the city had informed them that a rejection of the offer would give the council no choice but to disband the department.
On Tuesday the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association released a statement condemning the move to disband the local department.
“The council’s short-sighted decision means Forest Lake residents lose the ability to provide valuable input into the hiring of their Chief Law Enforcement Officer, which we believe is an expression of a community’s values," read the statement from MN Chiefs of Police Association Executive Director Andy Skoogman. "Local, community-based, control and oversight of policing is reflective in the policies and practices that govern the way law enforcement officers interact in the community. The council’s vote will undoubtedly result in job loss for some of Forest Lake’s contingent of committed police officers. Though we understand the economic challenges faced by communities large and small, we do not regard the outsourcing of essential public safety services as an effective tool for budget management."