Falcon Heights, St. Anthony begin police talks

By Anne Holzman,
News analysis

The city of Falcon Heights is in talks with St. Anthony about possibly hiring its municipal neighbor for police services.

That was the arrangement in 2016 when Philando Castile was shot and killed in Falcon Heights by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. A Ramsey County jury acquitted Yanez of second-degree manslaughter; St. Anthony police fired him.

In the wake of the shooting, the St. Anthony City Council decided to stop providing police services to Falcon Heights. Since 2018, Falcon Heights has relied on annual contracts with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) for services such as animal control, enforcement of city ordinances and crime investigations, but that arrangement has been unsatisfactory to both sides.

Falcon Heights city leaders have worked with the Castile family to heal the painful memories. A task force submitted recommendations to make Falcon Heights more inclusive and safer for all. A Peace Garden memorial was established at the site of the killing on Larpenteur Avenue. Each year, the city and the Castile family remember the date of Philando’s death with a unity and peace picnic.

Meanwhile, St. Anthony police have completed trainings and policy updates intended to improve their performance. At a Feb. 14 meeting of the Falcon Heights City Council, council member Melanie Leehy, who co-chaired the inclusion task force and has developed a friendship with the Castile family, expressed appreciation for the work that St. Anthony police have done since the shooting.

At a Feb. 7 joint meeting of the two city councils, Falcon Heights council member Eric Meyer said that while knocking on doors as a candidate, he’d heard from constituents that they missed having personal relationships with St. Anthony’s officers. Council members said the officers would knock on doors as part of the policing decision process.

The earliest possible start date for a contract between the two cities would be January 2025.

Currently, St. Anthony provides police services in Lauderdale, but Falcon Heights is significantly larger, and St. Anthony would have to grow its force in order to add services there.

St. Anthony City Manager Charlie Yunker told the Bugle in early March, “Right now both councils are focused on community engagement to gather feedback and ultimately determine if this is the right move for both communities. Should the decision be a yes, then we will shift to determining what implementation would look like.”

Yunker said he expected both cities to review feedback from their respective communities during April.

Asked why Falcon Heights now appears ready to consider re-entering the relationship, City Administrator Jack Linehan said, “The timing of reaching out to St. Anthony Village made sense. We are in a one-year interim contract with the RCSO. We were in conversations last year with the City of St. Paul, but we couldn’t get the levels of liability coverage they needed.

“We knew that both Falcon Heights and St. Anthony Village would need to have an extensive community engagement process due to past trauma—from residents, councils, officers and the greater community,” Linehan explained. “It’s by no means the easy option, but it is our best option to work with a department whose vision aligns with what our residents are seeking from a police department.” 

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

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