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Minn. town votes to disband 1 officer PD, opts to contract with county

Moose Lake is the 35th Minnesota police department to disband since 2016

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Chad Pattison, the last police officer in Moose Lake, poses for a portrait Tuesday, Feb. 06, 2024, outside the Moose Lake Police Station in Moose Lake, Minn. The department is down to one officer from five and will now disband in lieu of a contract with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune/TNS

By Jana Hollingsworth
Star Tribune

DULUTH, Minn. — Moose Lake is the latest Minnesota city to go without a police department, after a Wednesday City Council vote to contract with the county for law enforcement.

Mayor Ted Shaw was one of the two dissenting votes.

He’ll work to make a smooth transition, he said, “but I am disappointed.”

A contract with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office is expected to include four deputies who will work out of Moose Lake. It is a cheaper option that covers more shifts, in lieu of a three-person police force. The City Council chose to reduce the size of a 5-person force last fall to be able to fund the department, opting against replacing two of the officers who had resigned. Two others resigned in January, leaving one on the force.

Moose Lake, 40 minutes southwest of Duluth, is one of many smaller cities struggling to keep up with public safety demands amid increasing costs and a shortage of officers throughout the state.

The entire police force resigned in Goodhue, Minn., in August. Thirty-five municipal police departments throughout the state have dissolved since 2016, according to records kept by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. About 400 remain.

Public safety would have made up a major portion of Moose Lake’s $2.8 million 2024 budget — about $900,000 for a five-person force, said Ellissa Owens, its city administrator.

Nearly 90% of property tax proceeds alone would have gone to the police department after a 28% cost increase this year due to police health insurance changes, she said, forcing a reliance on local government aid to pay for other city departments.

The city is unusual in that it’s home to the prisoners of the Minnesota Correctional Facility and residents of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Together, they make up about half of the city’s population. Between those facilities and others that are tax-exempt, only 30% of city land is taxable, Owens said, keeping property tax proceeds low and contributing to budget woes.

Shaw said he was struck by the number of recently closed departments.

“That tells you there is a real problem with inflation and budget and state supports,” he said. “Something isn’t right.”

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