Forest Lake considers county takeover of police

In Forest Lake, residents often call officers by their first names; the people know the police, and the police know the people. And that’s why the possibility of Washington County taking over the police department is triggering intense emotions.

The city asked the county to prepare a proposal for the sheriff’s office to take over the city’s police department. While the proposal is still not complete, residents have been packing city council meetings expressing strong opposition.

“They’ve supported us all these years, and we’re just here supporting them. And the message we’re trying to get out is ‘save our police department,’” Matt Arntzen, a Forest Lake resident, told Fox 9.

Tom Hagert, a former police officer in Forest Lake, said there’s an added value to officers closely knowing their community.

“I know not just the person I’m dealing with, but their entire family,” said Hagert.

Ben Winnick, the Forest Lake mayor, said the request for a proposal does not mean the county is definitely taking over the police department.

“I think we can do better, but I don’t know where that path is gonna lead. It may improve our own department by evaluating this, or we might make significant changes, but we can’t do anything until we get a proposal back,” the mayor said.

Mayor Winnick told Fox 9—regardless of the outcome of the proposal—he believes changes are needed; the mayor said the police budget has grown over the last fifteen years from about a third of the budget to now more than half of the city’s budget.

There are 26 officers working in the department.

While some residents believe the deal is almost a certainty, the mayor insists the city is awaiting the proposal. And any change would include debate before the city council.