Pequot Lakes: Council agrees to replace police officer position
Last month, the council debated raising officer wages and not hiring for the open officer position
After listening to Police Chief Eric Klang talk about crime and hiring statistics, the Pequot Lakes City Council agreed to replace an officer position in the police department and keep the current staffing level.
The council voted 3-1 at its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 3, to hire a full-time officer from an internal pool of seven part-time officers. Mayor Tyler Gardner was absent and didn’t participate, though he observed the meeting online via Zoom. Council member Pete Clement voted against the hiring.
Last month, the council tabled the request to hire an officer after Officer Matt Jorgens resigned to join the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office. Discussion last month centered on not hiring another officer but instead possibly increasing existing officers’ wages. Klang was not at last month’s meeting.
"If I had a choice, I’d ask that you for the next two years don’t give any of us a raise and allow us to keep our staff and don’t give me a raise. Don’t give anybody a raise."
— Eric Klang, Pequot Lakes police chief
When asked before the Aug. 3 vote whether he’d prefer to replace the officer position or give higher wages, Klang said: “If I had a choice, I’d ask that you for the next two years don’t give any of us a raise and allow us to keep our staff and don’t give me a raise. Don’t give anybody a raise.”
Earlier in the meeting Klang said he had planned to ask for an additional officer beyond the replaced position, as well as 11% pay increases in 2022 to be competitive with neighboring communities and bring legitimacy to the department.
“We don’t want a revolving door here,” he said.
Klang initiated the discussion by talking about the 2020 Bureau of Criminal Apprehension annual report that he called “disturbing and disheartening for police professionals and that should be profoundly disturbing to every resident as well.”
The report notes historic levels of homicides, motor vehicle thefts and assaults, specifically assaults on police officers, he said.
A significant change in funding of the police department could result in troubling areas, Klang said, citing officer training, recruitment and retention. If the call volume remains the same and officers have an increased caseload, that lends to burnout, ineffective job performance or resignations, he said, adding there are more than 400 police officer jobs in the state today.
“Anybody who wants a job is going to get one,” Klang said.
Also, he said, when people move to a community they ask two questions: How good is the school, and how safe is the community.
In his 10 years as police chief, Klang said: “I never thought we had an excessive number of officers in the department, ever.”
“I’ve worked hard to bring this department to its level today,” Klang said. ”We’ve come a long way. We’re in a great place. We've accomplished a lot of great things in this agency.”
While he respects the city wanting to reduce spending and cut budgets, he doesn’t think those reductions should come from the police department.
He cited the department’s contract with the Pequot Lakes School District to provide a school liaison officer during the school year. The relationship between the school officer and students is lifelong and builds community trust and partnerships and results in crime reduction.
In addition, most part-time officers work full time elsewhere, Klang said, and officers always need time off for vacation, comp time, court appearances and training.
"Knowing we must make cuts somewhere, do we replace an officer or do we work on the wage thing? It comes down to give and take. I don’t think we can do both from what it sounds like."
— Dan Ronning, Pequot Lakes City Council
While the council agreed to replace the officer position, Klang and other department heads now will start presenting their proposed budgets to the council for 2022.
Council member Scott Pederson said that, unfortunately, the city doesn’t have a big pot of money to pay officers more, and the city isn’t growing at a rate to handle a large wage increase. The budget may have to be reduced in other areas to increase pay.
Pederson said the council is trying to maintain budgets, not reduce them. A budget Increase of 2%-3% is maintaining, he said.
Council member Dan Ronning said: “Knowing we must make cuts somewhere, do we replace an officer or do we work on the wage thing? It comes down to give and take. I don’t think we can do both from what it sounds like.”
In other action Aug. 3, the council:
Learned the city is one level away from the need to enact watering restrictions. The city is sprinkling at half its normal rate and has never had to restrict usage in the past.
Approved the final plat of Hunter Ridge based on findings of fact. John and Bonnie Hunter propose to subdivide the property at the intersection of Akerson and Evenson roads into three residential lots.
Agreed to have a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24, for budget discussions and potential decisions.
Learned police had 312 calls for service in June.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.