Cop options? Stewartville looks beyond sheriff’s office for law enforcement coverage

Bizar Male

With a proposed contract from the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office outlining increased patrol coverage – and increased costs – the city is looking at its options. Tuesday night, the city council agreed to reach out to the Rochester Police Department and possibly other area law enforcement agencies to see if there’s a less costly way to get coverage in town.

“They’re discussing it right now,” said City Administrator Bill Schimmel, referring to the city council. “They’re looking at different law enforcement options.”

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Schimmel said he was unaware of RPD ever contracting for coverage with another city outside of Rochester, but it would not be unprecedented. In the Twin Cities, larger metro police departments have helped out some of their smaller neighbors with patrol coverage.

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Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin agreed that there are numerous examples of joint powers agreements for law enforcement coverage between cities across the state, but he added Rochester has not entered into any such agreement in recent memory.

Dollars and sense

That isn’t stopping Stewartville from asking, which it plans to do soon.

“We’re currently under contract with Olmsted County, but the proposal they made had a pretty sizable increase” in cost, Schimmel said. “If there’s a different road to go, now’s the time to do that.”

Stewartville has two contracts with the county, one that provides one deputy assigned to the city for day shifts and events, and a second that provides at least four deputies who rotate to maintain 24 hours a day, seven days a week patrol coverage. The cost of the current contracts is $561,440.

The county has recommended new contracts that would total $786,670, an increase of $225,230.

“We’re still talking to them,” said Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson. “There may be ways to make this work over the long term.”

Growing pains

The problem, the sheriff said, is that the city is growing both in population and in its industrial sector. Additionally, calls that used to be covered by a single deputy require two deputies for a response, often meaning another deputy must be tasked to Stewartville from another part of the county.

“If we do have an intense call, a call that has serious concerns for public safety and officer safety, we have to get a deputy down from Byron or Eyota, or down from (Rochester),” Torgerson said. “If they’re responding from that distance, they’re driving down there faster than normal, trying to minimize the time that deputy is by himself.”

Jason Owen, Stewartville Community Deputy with Olmsted County patrols on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Stewartville. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Jason Owen, Stewartville Community Deputy with Olmsted County patrols on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Stewartville. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Torgerson said calls dealing with mental health issues, people in crisis or domestic violence situations are calls that, by procedure, now require that second officer on the scene to ensure public and officer safety.

And if a second incidident or call for help were to occur at the same time, it would cause trouble getting someone to respond in a timely manner.

“By not adding the two deputies (specified in the new contract), we’ll be exposing people,” Torgerson said. “We can’t predict when those calls will be.”

Torgerson said the current contract calls for the same number of officers Stewartville had back in the 1990s when the population was about 1,000 people fewer and the industrial section of town was smaller and included fewer businesses. In the last 25 years, the city has seen steady growth, something that is sure to continue.

In the past few years the city has added 30 to 40 homes, Torgerson said, plus an apartment complex that boasts more than 50 units.

Stretched too thin

Each year, Torgerson said, Stewartville officials have asked for more patrols along Main Street, but 42 percent of the calls for service in Stewartville go to the northeast sector of the city where a trailer court and industrial park are located. That shows the need for a second patrol officer during peak hours.

“We’ve had that discussion with them every year since 2015,” Togerson said, referring to the year he was elected sheriff. “I’m sure my predecessors had same conversation. We had a good conversation with them at that time about how we were going to adjust the pay schedule.”

Jason Owen, Stewartville Community Deputy with Olmsted County patrols on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Stewartville. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Jason Owen, Stewartville Community Deputy with Olmsted County patrols on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Stewartville. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Schimmel said the city’s contract has changed to accommodate salary and inflationary increases, but the proposal brought to the city this year for 2022-23 would be an increase of about 40 percent to their law enforcement coverage.

Torgerson said even at $786,670 Stewartville is getting a great deal.

He compared Stewartville to Kasson, which has a similar population, but operates its own police force. That service costs Kasson about $1.3 million to $1.4 million annually, Torgerson said. Under the new contract, he said, Stewartville would get about the same coverage from the sheriff’s office that Kasson gets from its police department, but at nearly half the cost.

Torgerson said other communities in Olmsted County that contract for patrol coverage, such as Byron or the combined contract of Dover and Eyota, have added deputy time to their contracts as they’ve seen growth.

“As they’ve grown, Stewartville has seen growth in other areas,” Torgerson said. “They do sewer and water and streets, but they haven’t been planning from the public safety side.”

With the current contract expiring at the end of December, Torgerson said Stewartville officials need to make a decision soon so his office can hire and train a new deputy and get that deputy on the street.

Schimmel said the decision will be made before Sept. 30 when preliminary budget levies are due to the state.

“The council understood that there is growth that needs to be figured in,” Schimmel said. “We just want to make the increases more palatable.”

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