Falcon Heights gauging interest from area police departments

Ties with St. Anthony fray after Castile killing, attempt to shift liability

Falcon Heights will issue a “request for interest” to local police departments for police service following a special city council meeting convened April 5, signaling its police contract with St. Anthony Village could be coming to an end.

The move followed a provocative motion approved by the St. Anthony City Council March 28, which sought to renegotiate the police contract, making Falcon Heights liable for any police actions within its city limits.

“For me, it’s a slap in the face,” Mayor Peter Lindstrom said at the meeting, referring to St. Anthony’s resolution. “The fact that we’ve had this long relationship and then they proceed in this manner ... that’s wrong.”

Falcon Heights has contracted with St. Anthony since the mid-1990s, maintaining a decades-long relationship with which both cities were pleased.

The dynamics of the relationship abruptly changed with the July 6, 2016, police killing of Philando Castile.

Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was shot and killed by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue. Yanez is charged with second-degree manslaughter and is scheduled to stand trial next month in Ramsey County District Court.

Either city has an opt-out clause in the contract that can be exercised prior to July 15; the soonest St. Anthony would stop policing Falcon Heights streets would be January 2018.


Sense of betrayal

Citing unbudgeted expenses stemming from the shooting, St. Anthony City Council members framed the shift in liability as a fiscally responsible move, protecting city taxpayers. St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey said the expenses so far total $566,261.

Falcon Heights is paying St. Anthony $672,590 for 2017 police service.

Falcon Heights City Council members took pains to make clear the April 5 motion was not a judgment against St. Anthony police officers, but solely a reaction to the council’s resolution.

Council member Randy Gustafson called St. Anthony a “fine police department” while questioning its guidance from above.

“It really draws into question the ability of [the St. Anthony City Council] to manage its business,” he said.


Council member Pamela Harris, a staunch supporter of St. Anthony police, reiterated that she’d never heard negative comments from residents about the police force until the July 6 shooting. 

Saying she did not understand St. Anthony’s decision to pass its resolution, Harris added it failed to take into account Falcon Heights’ experience over the past nine months.

“The St. Anthony resolution completely disregards the overwhelming disruption to Falcon Heights, some of which can be calculated in dollars and some of it not, that resulted from the shooting by their officer,” she said.

Harris added later, “In the course of all this disruption and in spite of the fury of some residents and members of the public, until now Falcon Heights has not wavered from its steadfast support of the St. Anthony police contract.”


Reactions vary

Though Lindstrom was greeted with applause when he introduced the motion, some who spoke at the meeting were unimpressed by the council’s decision.

Tyrone Terrill, president of the African American Leadership Council, mocked the city council’s emotional response to St. Anthony’s perceived slight.

“Philando Castile was murdered in your city, and I’ve yet to see one council member show one bit of emotion, including the mayor, about that murder in your city, but you showed it tonight because your little contract is being terminated,” Terrill said.

Other activists took a more forgiving tack. John Thompson, a friend of Castile’s who has spoken out frequently against his killing, said, “I know the city of Falcon Heights deserves a fresh start.”

“You definitely want to sever ties with all those people,” he added, referring to St. Anthony.

Paula Mielke, a member of Falcon Heights Can Do Better, has long called for Falcon Heights to end its current contract with St. Anthony.

“The St. Anthony City Council probably gave us a gift when they [made their resolution],” she said, speaking after the Falcon Heights special meeting, at which Falcon Heights Can Do Better delivered a petition with some 400 resident signatures backing an end to the current contract.

Noting the council could have acted for the “right reasons,” Mielke said she would continue to hold the Falcon Heights City Council and St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth accountable for what she said was their lack of response to numerous accounts of St. Anthony police racially profiling during traffic stops on Larpenteur Avenue.

Beyond, that, she said, “We have asked that it be an open bidding process.”

After the city sends out its request for interest, Lindstrom said, a request for proposals would likely follow, coming out around the end of the month. An RFP would be the next step in finding potentially new police service.

Cities with police agencies that operate near Falcon Heights include St. Paul, Roseville, Minneapolis, New Brighton and Maplewood. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office also covers nearby suburbs.

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

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