Forest Lake residents fighting to keep police department

An area hockey team honored police officers in Forest Lake Friday night as a debate rages over whether to disband the police department and let the Washington County Sheriff's Office handle law enforcement in the community.

The Forest Lake Lakers junior hockey team held a law enforcement appreciation night during their game against the Dells Ducks.
Ten Forest Lake officers took to the ice before the game and a large crowd was in the stands to support them.

“We didn't know when we started our appreciation night, it was going to be a little bit timely for those of us who live in the area,” said Sally Swanson of the Forest Lake Boosters Club.

A letter sent to Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton just two weeks ago asked for a proposal from his office to contract with the city for law enforcement services.

The very idea was already generating a fierce face-off among residents.

“I think as a community and I know as a team, we care deeply for our police department and we don't want to see them going anywhere,” said Nirvana Wallace of the Forest Lake Boosters Club.

Erin Turner posted a petition on that has received more than 2,100 signatures.

“People are having very heartfelt comments about their personal experiences with this police department and they're very fearful this could go away,” said Turner.  “And they're concerned that there wasn't a conversation, this just came out of nowhere.”

City officials say they will provide a period for the public to give its thoughts once a proposal is presented to the city council. The mayor and city administrator contend the switch offers the chance for synergy, efficiency and cost savings.

Turner says getting rid of local officers is not the right way to achieve those objectives.

“I hope that out of this could come an identification of additional opportunities and we can continue to be more efficient with taxpayer dollars,” said Turner. “I hope that is nobody thinks there's more efficiency having the county taking over the Forest Lake Police Department.”

The city council is scheduled to have a workshop meeting on what the guiding principles for the idea Monday evening. The public would have the chance to weigh in during an open forum.