Cass Lake decides to save money by cutting police

Cass Lake, Minnesota (AP) 8-08

The city leaders of Cass Lake in northern Minnesota have decided to disband their police force in an effort to save money.

Officials say they need to disband the department due to a shrinking tax base in the town, which is also the headquarters of the Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation.

Mayor Wayne LaDuke said cutting local police and contracting with the county for law enforcement services will allow the city to focus on other critical needs, including street and infrastructure repairs.

“Unless we change how we do business, we’re looking at double digit tax increases for the next 10 or 15 years,” said LaDuke. “There’s not a resident or a business in this community that can afford double digit tax increases. We would absolutely kill ourselves and our tax base.”

LaDuke said the county could provide even better law enforcement services than what the city now offers.

“They’re going to see more efficient police protection, more reliable police protection at a considerable cost savings,” LaDuke said.

The move is controversial. Cass Lake has one of the highest crime rates in Cass County, and critics worry sheriff’s deputies won’t provide the same security as local police.

Karl Salscheider, the assistant high school boys basketball coach, doubts the sheriff’s department can provide the same level of service as local officers.

“I would suspect that the criminal elements that surround us will flourish under a situation where there’s not that type of presence,” said Salscheider, who lives outside of town. “To eliminate a local police force is the act of a dying community. Cass Lake is not a dying community. We need to go forward, and the staple of our community is our local police force.”

Cass Lake is far from the only small town to eliminate its police force.

Since 2000, more than 60 departments have disbanded or merged with other departments, according to state officials. Since 1980, the number of small town police departments has fallen 20 percent.

Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training director Neil Melton said residents of these small towns often find it hard to give up their local police.

“They really don’t care what’s written on the side of the truck that plows the snow in the winter, but for some reason they really like to have their town sort of emblazoned on the side of a patrol car,” said Melton. “They feel a sense of ownership, I guess, a little bit of Americana.”

The law enforcement deal with Cass County isn’t final, and there may be a new bidder interested in provide police protection to the town. The Leech Lake Band is now considering expanding their police services into the city.