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Police protection – Our view: Silver Lake City Council vote a disservice to community

Police protection and public safety is one of the tenant services cities provide their residents. The Silver Lake City Council’s recent 3-2 vote to disband its police department and rely on a contract it has yet to negotiate with the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office is a disservice to residents.
Councilors Nolan Johnson, Chris Penaz and Josh Winfrey voted against Silver Lake maintaining a city-based police department.
This opinion is not because the county sheriff’s office is not staffed with professional, high-quality law enforcement personnel. There is no reason whatsoever to believe the sheriff’s office can’t provide Silver Lake excellent law enforcement services.
The votes in favor of the change came before the city had even begun to negotiate a permanent contract for police services with the city council. There is no way Johnson, Penaz and Winfrey can say with certainty the community will receive the same level of policing from the sheriff’s office as it did when the city employed police officers. The trio approved an agreement with the sheriff’s office without negotiating a contract, a move akin to handing the county a blank check.
It was a telling sign County Commissioner Joe Nagel suggested a working group be established to discuss a potential working relationship between the city and the sheriff’s office. More importantly, the trio moved forward against the advice of the city attorney, the person charged with representing the city’s best interests in this sort of contractual issue. He warned the council it would be incredibly difficult to restart a police department from scratch. He encouraged the council to table the issue for more discussion. Yet Johnson, Penaz and Winfrey had decided they knew better.
The trio was seemingly intent on moving forward with the agreement. They didn’t even know for certain what will happen to the police cars and other equipment now that they have scrapped the city’s police department.
While the deputies will no doubt be respectful to the Silver Lake City Council, it should be noted these people do not answer to the council. They are employed by the sheriff’s office and follow the standards set by the sheriff. While the sheriff may assign the same deputies to Silver Lake in an effort to build a rapport with the community, the city will receive the deputies assigned to work in Silver Lake.
Councilors opposing maintaining a police department point to the findings of a survey conducted over two weeks. But the survey was not uniformly distributed and may not accurately reflect the feelings of the majority of Silver Lake’s residents who may not feel they are getting good value from county-based law enforcement.
A public meeting on the contract with the sheriff’s office is slated for Aug. 13. We encourage community members to attend. Demand answers.
Studies in Glencoe and Silver Lake suggest the cost of policing the community will be greater in an apples-to-apples comparison. Why did officers and the former chief leave? Money was part of it, yes. But Silver Lake has lost its officers and police department because a majority of the council continued to flirt with the idea the city will somehow receive a better deal from the sheriff’s office.
If that were indeed the case, Glencoe wouldn’t have a police department. Neither would Brownton or Hutchinson. What is it that Silver Lake knows those cities have yet to discover?
We’ll see.
-jm