Proposal to cut Forest Lake Police Dept. continues to spark debate

Forest Lake city leaders heard an earful from residents about a proposal to turn over policing to Washington County.

But one key player was missing from the open house. Representatives for the Washington County Sheriff's Office chose not to attend.

“We came here thinking we were going to get some questions answered,” said Nancy Anderson, a Forest Lake resident. “And we have a lot of questions as taxpayers.”

Officials said the sheriff’s office doesn’t want to get involved in the fierce debate over whether to disband the city's police department, but did provide plenty of information.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is proposing to assign at least 15 deputies to the city full-time.

Currently, the police force has a net impact of roughly $3.3 million on the city's budget.

Washington County's proposal would have a projected impact of $2.9 million, which is a savings of roughly $387,078.

But those figures don't include one-time transition costs of at least half a million dollars, just another factor on the list of concerns for others on the council.

“I believe we're going to get a lot better variety of police services than we can afford,” said Mayor Ben Winnick. “We're going to get more patrols that we do now.”

Many residents are still not convinced getting rid of the police department is the right move.

“They just don't seem to be listening to us,” said Anderson. “And we just can't understand it. I said to him, I said, ‘There is an outcry here for you stop this,’ so I said ‘We're begging you as Forest Lake citizens please put a stop to this.”

The mayor says city leaders are listening to resident's concerns.

The sheriff's office is also taking calls and emails from concerned citizens.

The council expected to make its decision in the next few weeks.