St. Anthony severs police ties with Falcon Heights

The St. Anthony City Council voted to terminate its decades-long police contract with Falcon Heights during a disjointed, 8-minute-long meeting July 11.

Chants of “Faust out now” — directed at Mayor Jerry Faust — erupted immediately following the Pledge of Allegiance, and were followed by rhythmic cries of “Lowry Grove” and “Philando Castile.”

Lowry Grove was the St. Anthony mobile home park that closed June 30, sold last year to a developer and set to become apartments, forcing hundreds of people to move.

Philando Castile was the 32-year-old African-American motorist shot to death by a St. Anthony cop during a July 6, 2016, traffic stop in Falcon Heights. His killing set off the chain of events that led to the cities’ policing split.

Faust sprinted through the city council’s regular business before taking up the termination of the contract. The vote was unanimous to end it; St. Anthony police will patrol Falcon Heights through Dec. 31.

The deadline for either St. Anthony or Falcon Heights to opt out of the contract was July 15. Had neither city voted to end the contract, it would have been in effect through the end of 2018.

Following the vote, the meeting continued for a moment with business as usual. Council member Randy Stille wished a 110-year-old resident a happy birthday, to applause, but protest chants soon began again and Faust called the meeting before it hit the 10-minute mark.

 

‘Slap in the face’

Falcon Heights has contracted with St. Anthony for police service since the mid-90s. 

The relationship between the cities was mutually beneficial until Castile was killed by officer Jeronimo Yanez, who has since been acquitted of all criminal charges related to the shooting and is no longer on the police force.

Though the Falcon Heights City Council was staunchly supportive of the St. Anthony Police Department following the shooting, with little prior notice, the St. Anthony City Council passed a March 28 resolution that ended up being a poison pill.

With the city council citing fiscal responsibility, the resolution called for a renegotiation of the police contract that would shift all liability to Falcon Heights for police actions that take place within Falcon Heights city limits.

At the time of the resolution, St. Anthony had incurred some $566,000 in unbudgeted expenses related to the shooting, with Falcon Heights paying $762,000 for policing in 2017.

The Falcon Heights City Council regarded the resolution — making their city liable for the actions of St. Anthony employees — as a slap in the face. Shortly thereafter, the city began a search for police service elsewhere, eventually coming together with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office when no other suitors emerged. 

 

Down to the wire

Despite the fact that both cities signaled they were moving on from the police contract months ago — St. Anthony’s preliminary 2018 budget accounted for the loss of Falcon Heights’ contract fees and Falcon Heights has been in ongoing talks with RCSO — the termination of the contract still came down to the wire.

Falcon Heights City Administrator Sack Thongvanh said his city stood back because St. Anthony initiated the split.

He said the Falcon Heights City Council’s unwavering support for the St. Anthony Police Department in the wake of the shooting, was in part because there was hope amongst council members that the cities’ relationship could continue, albeit with some changes made to how St. Anthony policed Falcon Heights.

Also, Thongvanh said, even if a split was inevitable, allowing the contract to run its course through 2018 would have given Falcon Heights more time to plan for policing after St. Anthony was done.

 

Disappointed, yet optimistic

Paula Mielke, a member of Falcon Heights Can Do Better, long called for the city to drop or renegotiate the contract with St. Anthony. 

She said she was disappointed the Falcon Heights council never did so, especially in light of the petition with nearly 450 signatures her group delivered to the council calling for it to end the contract.

“It saddens me, the lack of response in this, to the residents of Falcon Heights,” she said.

Still, she said she’s optimistic the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office can step in and provide police service that’s in line with Falcon Heights’ community values, especially after speaking to Sheriff Jack Serier at a recent library board event.

“What I’m so impressed by with the county is the work they’ve done in the researching and screening of candidates, and their commitment to training,” she said. “When you have a larger department you can attract better candidates because there’s more opportunity.”

Thongvanh said he hopes to have estimates of what it will cost for the county to police Falcon Heights by sometime in August.

 

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 


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