Falcon Heights hires consultant to study policing needs

By Anne Holzman

After several years of uncertainty over their police services contract with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the Falcon Heights City Council has hired Matt Bostrom, a former Ramsey County sheriff and now law enforcement consultant, to study the issue for it.

At its Sept. 7 meeting, the council hired Bostrom’s firm, Center for Values-Based Initiatives, to review what the city needs from police and assess its options for obtaining those services. The Bostrom-led review will cost Falcon Heights about $35,000, about $40,000 less than a competing quote from a national firm.

Besides the disparity on the quotes, Falcon Heights Administrator Jack Linehan said a factor in favor of hiring Bostrom is that he “knows the community.”

Bostrom’s firm also will evaluate the city’s response to the Task Force on Policing and Community Inclusion formed after the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop.

Results from the Bostrom study and review are expected in early 2023.

At the time of Castile’s death, Falcon Heights had a contract with the St. Anthony Police Department. That contract was dropped by St. Anthony shortly afterwards; and the city turned to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.

Falcon Heights is within the Ramsey County Sheriff’s jurisdiction but must pay extra for services such as patrols, investigations, crime prevention, community outreach and animal control. Falcon Heights is one of seven north suburban cities contracting for these services.

Since public safety is by far Falcon Heights’ largest budget category, accounting for 52% of city’s 2022 budget, the city council regularly discusses ways to control those costs.

Bostrom will be examining the city’s relationship with a Sheriff’s Office led by a former rival.

When Bob Fletcher, embroiled in a scandal over a regional gang task force, ran for his fifth term as sheriff in 2010, it was Bostrom who defeated him. Bostrom won reelection to the post in 2014, then resigned in January 2017 to lead a study on policing practices at Oxford University. County commissioners appointed Jack Serier to serve out Bostrom’s term.

Bostrom returned to the Twin Cities after 2017 and went to work for the consulting firm, the Center for Values-Based Initiatives, which will now weigh policing options for Falcon Heights.

In 2018, Fletcher ran for his old job and beat Serier, who was running for a new term. Fletcher is currently running unopposed for what would be his sixth term.

Falcon Heights officials have long discussed alternatives to using the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office for police services. Their interest particularly peaked after Fletcher told them, in fall 2020, that he would increase the city’s patrol staffing and charge an additional $350,000 if the city renewed its contract on top of an approximately $1.1 million already charged.

During 2021, Falcon Heights explored contracting with St. Paul Police.

However, after the State Fair dissolved its police force in 2021 and contracted with the Sheriff’s Office, Fletcher reworked his budget and offered to continue the county’s relationship with Falcon Heights through 2022 at a reduced rate.

At that time, Falcon Heights Mayor Randy Gustafson, who works for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, said the one-year extension “gives us the option to look at things.”

At the Sept. 28, Falcon Heights City Council meeting, Council Member Yakasah Wehyee expressed concerns about Bostrom’s local ties, including that Gustafson was in the position of voting on a contract for his former boss.

Gustafson bristled at the suggestion that there might be a conflict of interest.

“I took total offense to any statement of bias and have made that clear throughout the years,” Gustafson said.

Other council members said Bostrom’s knowledge of the history and needs of Falcon Heights would be an asset.

Council Member Kay Andrews said, “He (Bostrom) will start the process with a lot of experience and expertise that the national firm would not have. They would have to spend a lot of time getting there.” 

Anne Holzman is a Twin Cities freelance writer who covers Falcon Heights and Lauderdale government news for the Bugle.

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