Police or sheriff? That's the choice in tiny Minn. city

Fire contract could also be in jeopardy

By Kevin Giles
Minneapolis Star Tribune

LANDFALL, Minn. — If Landfall dumps Maplewood's police coverage, the fire contract between the cities could also be in jeopardy.

There's a police controversy in tiny Landfall, a Washington County city of close-set mobile homes, but it isn't about crime.

Under consideration is whether Landfall will fire the Maplewood Police Department after 19 years in favor of a contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

The proposal has riled the city of 700 people, said resident Jim Dumer.

"It's just so unbelievable. Nobody knows why they're trying to make this move and they won't explain it either," said Dumer, who's lived in Landfall for 19 years.

Seventy residents attended a recent meeting where the dispute was discussed, he said. "There was overwhelming support for the police," Dumer said, pausing for emphasis. "Overwhelming."

The Landfall City Council's eventual decision — a meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. will address the proposal — could have consequences for its fire protection, too. Maplewood, a Ramsey County city neighboring Landfall, also holds that contract. City Administrator Jim Antonen said if Landfall doesn't want Maplewood police it might make sense to reconsider the fire department contract.

"There is close coordination [between police and fire] so there is concern," said Antonen, who questioned what Landfall will gain by ending its policing contract. "It appears to me this is a solution in search of a problem."

Landfall, the most impoverished city in an otherwise well-monied county, is squeezed against Oakdale, just east of the Ramsey County border. Landfall pays $119,480 annually for around-the-clock police protection from Maplewood.

Police Chief Dave Thomalla said his department has gone beyond the terms of the contract to sponsor a kids' fishing tournament, National Night Out and other community events, and said his officers "personally have become attached to the city and people who live there."

Thomalla said he was taken by surprise a few weeks ago when Mayor Greg "Flash" Feldbrugge and City Attorney Kevin Shoeberg came to Maplewood to meet with him.

"The conversation started with, 'We've decided to look elsewhere,'" Thomalla said. "The city of Landfall hires us to do police work. It doesn't say how. We do it in Landfall the same way we do it in Maplewood. We do it fairly and impartially and evidently they are looking for someone else to do it."

Feldbrugge deferred questions to Shoeberg, who said Monday he proposed the change because he thought it made sense to put a Washington County city under Washington County law enforcement. Landfall, a former private trailer park, previously contracted with Oakdale police and at one time even had a small force of its own. Landfall contracted with Maplewood in 1993.

Thomalla said city officials told him that residents were afraid to call police, that Maplewood police weren't working closely enough with Washington County narcotics officers, and some response times were slow. "There was no notice given that they were dissatisfied," he said, disputing the allegations.

Contracting with Washington County isn't a matter of money, Shoeberg said, but would improve coordination through emergency dispatch. In addition, Sheriff Bill Hutton has jurisdiction over Tanner's Lake in Oakdale, which borders Landfall, Shoeberg said.

"That's why I made the recommendation, because I thought it made sense for the city," Shoeberg said.

Hutton, who years ago patrolled Landfall as an Oakdale police officer, said Tuesday that he hasn't lobbied for the Landfall contract. If the City Council wants his services, Hutton said, he would hire a deputy to join other deputies patrolling a wider area, such as Lake Elmo and Landfall together.

Copyright 2012 Star Tribune

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