By Anne Holzman
Falcon Heights has notified the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office that the city won’t renew its contract for police service from them when the current contract expires at the end of 2021.
Last fall, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told the Falcon Heights City Council to expect a $350,000 annual fee increase if the contract was renewed and recommended the city look elsewhere for the services.
Falcon Heights is one of several cities contracting with the sheriff for police services beyond the county’s standard duties of providing backup and emergency response for public safety.
The current contract, now in its fourth and final year, provides safety coverage plus a list of other services not normally covered by a sheriff’s office, such as animal control, criminal investigations and coordination of citizen volunteer programs.
Falcon Heights City Administrator Sack Thongvanh told the Bugle in early April that it’s still not clear how much the contract renewal would cost.
Fletcher “hasn’t provided any justification or details about what the $350,000 would cover,” Thongvanh said. The city is exercising a termination option in the policing contract with Ramsey County that leaves the door open to renewing the contract if no satisfactory replacement can be found, he explained.
Meanwhile, Thongvanh and his staff are working with St. Paul Police to begin covering Falcon Heights starting next January.
In an email newsletter to residents, Mayor Randy Gustafson wrote about the contract talks. “There are many nuanced topics around law enforcement service such as financial aspects and community values and expectations that are part of the discussions we will hold in the coming weeks and months. At present, because the process is just officially beginning, there are no details of what a contract with Saint Paul Police will entail.”
The issue of who can best offer public safety in Falcon Heights has been on the agendas of city leaders at least since Philando Castile was killed by a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights on July 6, 2016. An Inclusion and Policing Task Force, convened during 2018, issued recommendations. That led to a series of Community Conversations in December 2020 and January 2021 when participants responded to updates on the contract situation.
At the third meeting in the series, held Jan. 7, a survey showed the participants’ preference for St. Paul Police over an alternative possibility of reviving a contract with St. Anthony police.
A summary of responses to a question about satisfaction with the Ramsey County Sheriff notes, “There was satisfaction with the sheriff in the beginning, but the majority opinion has now gone the other way—to unsatisfactory.”
The survey summary further says, “Community members want improved communication and transparency from police.”
Anne Holzman is a Bugle freelancer who covers government news from Falcon Heights and Lauderdale.