In deer killing incident, police, residents all meant well

Chris Johnson
Jim DuFour
Guest Columnists

As some may know, the Forest Lake City Council has been asked to consider adopting a policy that restricts our police from entering private property for the purposes of pursuing, killing or capturing (“dispatching”) wild animals.

This request followed the Forest Lake Police Department’s dispatch of two deer earlier this year. These deer were dispatched at the request and as part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s state-wide policies involving a zero-tolerance approach to the potential spread of disease in Minnesota’s deer population.

Additionally, wild animals, including deer that lose their fear of humans due to “taming” or hand-feeding, become a serious safety threat to humans as they mature. In out-state Minnesota, the DNR primarily carries out its policies with state conservation officers, but in the metro area, the DNR relies more on assistance from local police.

Though some may say, ‘let the DNR carry out its own policies’, we don’t believe such an approach is in Forest Lake’s best interest.

First, if Forest Lake was to adopt the proposed policy restricting our officers, state conservation officers, rather than local police, would be left to carry out the animal dispatch policies.

We are very proud of our local police force. So too are our residents as they gave our police department very high marks across the board in recent surveys.

Given the choice between our local police and state conservation officers, we prefer our local police carry out future animal dispatches in Forest Lake. Our officers are well-trained and now have an even-more-heightened sensitivity to the concerns that have been expressed arising out of the deer dispatches. We continue to trust their judgment.

Second, we are very hesitant to create rules that could hinder our officers’ effectiveness in the field. We recognize that we don’t have their training and have never served as a police officer. Rather than making rules that may have unintended consequences, we believe proper hiring, training, and supervision is a better long-term approach.

Finally, Forest Lake receives a far greater amount of service from the DNR than we provide to it, such as boat inspections to protect our lakes from invasive species. Maintaining that relationship serves Forest Lake’s self-interest.

Additionally, in a larger and more general sense, cooperation will allow both entities to provide services to the public in a more cost-effective manner.

We understand how some of our residents could have developed an emotional connection to the deer. We do feel for them.

We believe both they and our police were acting with good intentions. This was an unfortunate collision of two story lines.

We will continue to train our officers and rely on their judgment to continue to keep our citizens safe as they carry out their duties.

— Chris Johnson is mayor of Forest Lake. Jim DuFour is a member of the Forest Lake City Council.