Animal dispatch policy on city’s radar Thursday

 Resident expects his request for protocol changes to be refused

 

Clint Riese
News Editor

A delicate issue that has brought unwanted attention to the Forest Lake Police Department for nearly a year may be settled at a City Council workshop on Thursday, Nov. 15.

If the issue is squared away, it will be against the will of the resident involved.

Jeff Carpenter this summer asked the City Council to adopt an animal dispatch policy following a January incident on his North Shore Trail property in which two orphaned fawns were killed by a FLPD officer acting under a dispatch request from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The council in July assigned a committee to study the issue in depth and bring back a recommendation. The group included representation from the city, the council and the DNR as well as a wildlife expert and Carpenter himself.

That recommendation is on the agenda for the council at tonight’s workshop.

New Approach

Whether Carpenter will be in attendance is unknown following the latest twist in the strange storyline. Carpenter last Friday withdrew his request for the city to consider such a policy.

That request followed a memorandum from City Attorney Dale Hebert dated Nov. 7 that outlined reasons for the council not to create a protocol for the dispatching of wild animals.

Carpenter expects the council to accept the committee’s recommendation and put the matter to rest, so he hopes to delay any action until the newly constituted council takes office in January.

“The only reason it’s being withdrawn is because of this current council,” Carpenter said this Monday. “I’m pulling it because of the [anticipated] vote and wanting to get someone else in there.”

Even Carpenter, though, expects the current council to act on Thursday. He figures he will have the continued support of council members Mike Freer and Jackie McNamara. He expects Mayor Chris Johnson and Councilman Jim Dufour to oppose the creation of a policy. Councilwoman Susan Young cast the swing vote in July that led to the creation of the committee, but Carpenter feels she will side with Dufour and Johnson this time around.

“They’re just going to move forward with [rejecting] it,” he said.

Committee’s Finding

Hebert’s argument, sent to the mayor and council last week on behalf of the committee, was essentially three-fold. First, the deer incident at the Carpenter property was “extremely isolated” and unlikely to play out in the same way because the DNR was temporarily shorthanded at the time.

Second, a city-established policy would not apply to the DNR, which would be the entity handling such a case.

Finally, the policy would jeopardize the police department’s official immunity, limiting the ability for officers to exercise judgement and opening the door for potential lawsuits in situations where officers do not follow the protocol word-for-word.

“…The Council must be careful in how it directs the police department to conduct its activities,” Hebert concluded. “Police officers must generally be free to use their professional judgement to choose from alternative courses of action.”

Carpenter’s Frustration

At this point, Carpenter’s cause has become a matter of principle.

“Certain things you just feel strongly about, right or wrong,” he said, estimating that 95 percent of those he has talked to have expressed support for his side.

Carpenter said he saw the writing on the wall during the July 23 committee meeting. Chief of Police Rick Peterson brought forth a policy that Carpenter agreed with “90 percent” and would have agreed to, if need be. But even that policy was left behind, according to Carpenter, once Hebert advised that no policy be brought to the council.

“You get so frustrated,” Carpenter said of that meeting. “You do what you can and you just get these people that are against what you’re trying to do.”

Carpenter also feels the city put the matter off until after the election, and now wants to push it through before the new council members take office.

“I find it really ironic we have the meeting months ago, and then two days after the election they send this thing out,” he said. “I just got snowed, just railroaded.”

Thursday’s council workshop begins at 6:30 p.m., though interviews with three engineering firms are on the agenda before the animal dispatch item.

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