Forest Lake City Council members at Monday’s meeting exercised considerable restraint in an attempt to discuss a proposed animal dispatch policy without getting bogged down once again in the details of a January incident which led to the creation of the proposed policy.
They found out, however, that the ramifications of the Jan. 14 dispatching of two deer by the Forest Lake Police Department are as loaded as the situation which led the officer to shoot the animals in the yard of Jeff Carpenter that morning.
Carpenter, who looked after and collared the orphaned fawns, recently brought forth a policy that establishes criteria for police or city workers to meet before entering private property to dispatch animals.
A vote against it would have settled the long-debated matter on the city’s end.
However, Councilwoman Susan Young provided the swing vote as the council instead took a step towards crafting a modified policy which may fly in the face of state law.
Council members Mike Freer and Jackie McNamara joined Young in mandating the formation of a board of interested parties that will work off Carpenter’s proposal to produce a similar version for council consideration.
The board will consist of McNamara (as a council representative), City Attorney Dale Hebert, a representative from the police department, a representative of the Department of Natural Resources, an expert from the Wildlife Science Center, and Carpenter or someone of his choosing.
Councilman Jim DuFour and Mayor Chris Johnson voted against the measure.
Herbert, City Administrator Aaron Parrish and Chief of Police Rick Peterson all spoke out against it.
Discussion Monday touched on two factors standing in the way of any such policy. First and foremost is the concern that it would violate state law and thus be an empty protocol that serves only to rankle the DNR.
The state is aggressively fighting chronic wasting disease, a contagious and fatal neurological disease in deer and elk that can impact the wild population. A deer that died in May on a North Oaks game farm tested positive for the condition.
Johnson referenced that case in arguing that state conservation officers would carry on animal dispatch duties locally if the city decides to adopt a policy that slows the police department’s ability to act on the DNR’s behalf.
“I do think I’d rather have our local police [carrying out the dispatches], especially after all this,” he said.
“They have a heightened sensitivity to this issue, more so than anybody.”
Minnesota statute says that all peace officers must enforce state game laws, but Freer is prepared to call the state’s bluff.
“I don’t think they’re going to [send out conservation officers],” he said, adding that he felt Carpenter’s policy would not violate the law.
Hebert explained that the policy would make the city vulnerable from a legal perspective.
“If you take away discretionary ability of a police officer to do his or her job, you can open yourself up to significant liability,” he said.
Further, Hebert felt the creation of such a policy does not fall within the council’s legal powers.
“I just don’t think that is within the purview of the council at all,” he said.
The second challenge for policy supporters will be to maintain the majority when it comes time for a final vote.
Young allowed for the creation of a revised policy and she may well cast the deciding vote again, as her peers have held firm in their views from the start of the debate. Even Young, though, expressed concern about changing a city rule based on an isolated incident.
“It’s a single situation that I’m concerned about a knee-jerk [reaction] on,” she said.
Young also spoke of “real concerns” about the concept of police needing to obtain permission before entering private property.
Parrish said this requirement, designed with safety in mind, could in fact create a safety hazard in the case of a rabid animal. It would also extend suffering for animals wounded in vehicle collisions, he noted.
Johnson ended the discussion with a plea for the council to think critically about the need for an animal dispatch policy. He acknowledged an emotional instinct to react to the Carpenter situation but questioned what a policy would truly accomplish.
Johnson said his vote also stemmed in part from a belief that the matter has already played out for too long.
“I feel for the Carpenters, I understand,” he said. “If it was just as simple as me doing something to try to satisfy them I would try to do it. But in the end, I have to, for me, make a judgement on what I think is best for the overall city.
“For the reasons I’ve said, I think there are a lot of reasons not to [do this] and I don’t see…what would be advanced.”