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Statements about Backus police coverage untrue

Statements made at the March 4 Backus City Council meeting regarding police coverage and the city’s contract with the Pine River Police Department for coverage later proved to be inaccurate.

The council discussed the option of contracting with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department for police services. The Pine River Police Department currently holds a contract for public safety in Backus.

While discussing costs and advantages of each department, Mayor Kurt Sawyer suggested that the city pays not only for the time Pine River officers spent patrolling the city of Backus, but also for the travel time it took to reach Backus from Pine River.

Discussion between Backus City Clerk Jeff Turk and Pine River Police Chief Paul Sand later revealed this and other statements to be incorrect.

“We do not charge them for the travel time,” Sand said.

Sand explained this misunderstanding may stem from times when officers are called to Backus for law enforcement when they are not currently patrolling the city. He said officers will often stay within the city following these incidents and work some of their contracted hours.

“If we get a call at 12:30 for a disorderly or whatever,” Sand said, “we will stay up in Backus and patrol because we are already there. It’s not from the time we got the call (but a continuation of the time).”

Furthermore, Sawyer said he saw the Pine River police patrolling outside of city limits and he was sure the city was paying for those hours.

Because Sand was not asked about these occasions, nor given exact dates for when they happened, he said he could not address those complaints directly. However, he did say those officers may have been patrolling outside the city of Backus working Safe and Sober shifts. These shifts are in cooperation with county law enforcement to increase enforcement of speed, seat belt and sobriety laws. This program is paid for by the state of Minnesota.

“When they work Safe and Sober shifts the officers patrol the area pretty heavy. So you will have an officer there, and more than likely they are working Safe and Sober shifts,” Sand said. “None of those Safe and Sober shifts gets charged to the city at all.”

Sawyer also suggested that the city could cut the cost of having a police force in half if it reduced the hours of coverage from 20 hours to 10 hours per week, not per day, as the Pine River Journal mistakenly reported.