FOREST LAKE, Minn. – About 1,300 students from Forest Lake High School and two middle schools walked out of class Tuesday in protest of the Forest Lake City Council’s decision to eliminate the city’s police department.
The 3-2 vote Monday evening would disband the department and contract police services out to Washington County, reports the Pioneer Press. The vote followed weeks of protests and petitions, and took place in a jam packed Forest Lake Community Center. Members of the crowd booed as soon as the vote was final, and the meeting ended shortly after.
“Our teachers have always told us ‘you have voices, so use them, and make yourselves heard,’” 17-year-old Forest Lake High School junior Clara Olson, who helped arrange the walkout, told Fox News. “If the city council was truly doing their job, this would never have progressed this far. They haven’t been listening to the people.”
The Washington County Board of Commissioners still needs to approve the plan on their end. The council proposed a five-year deal where Forest Lake will pay the county $2.9 million annually for law enforcement services. Olson and Councilmember Mara Bain, who voted against the resolution, hope the board rejects the plan.
“We expect them to listen to our clear voices and reject this ridiculous contract,” Bain told the Pioneer Press. “They need to look at it not just from a law enforcement perspective, but as a countywide public policy perspective. Now is the time they need to respect the wishes of Forest Lake residents and recognize that this is not a contract that the residents intend on keeping.”
Officials say that contracting out the police work will save the city about $387,000 annually, or about four percent of Forest Lake’s proposed 2017 city budget of $9.6 million. The proposed budget included $4.04 million for police protection in the public safety section.
Looking at other items in the Forest Lake budget to see what the city could do with the savings, it appears the $387,000 mark would cover the parks maintenance line item. The savings also could cover the cost of building inspections with some room to spare. It falls about $70,000 short of the total administrative costs of the city.
“This is an opportunity for the city and the county to work together for the mutual benefit of our residents by saving them a significant amount of money and providing increased patrol and depth of services that we, as a city, could not provide for them,” Forest Lake Mayor Ben Winnick told the Pioneer Press.
Winnick led the push for contracting out the services. He and Councilmembers Ed Eigner and Michael Freer are all up for reelection in 2018. Forest Lake residents have also started a Change.org petition calling for Winnick’s impeachment. At the time of writing it has over 2,200 signatures.