1/9/2014 12:55:00 PM Lakes Area Police marks first 10 years of successful merger of departments
Ten years ago, Chief Stenson, left, and Deputy Chief Schlumbohm, right, posed with new Lakes Area Police ball caps.
by DENISE MARTIN
An upcoming Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs forum will include none other than Lakes Area Chief of Police Kevin Stenson. The topic for the think tank’s January 24 conference is “Shared Services” and Chief Stenson will bring extensive personal experience from the merging of two police departments. Chisago City and Lindstrom started to dismantle their separate law enforcement operations beginning in late 2003 and by January 2004-- 10 years ago-- the Lakes Area Police Dept. was up and running.
Stenson will be sharing the Humphrey School stage with officials from other locations that have successfully created new combined entities -- the Director for Public Safety for New Brighton and officials from Blaine-Spring Lake Park Fire Dept. for example, are also invited. In government it isn’t a simple thing to disassemble an existing operation. It can be even more challenging when it entails blurring or crossing political boundaries. One thing that could not have been predicted in 2004 is the expansion of the land mass that Lakes Area Police Dept. is now responsible for due to annexation of about 11,000 acres of township parcels out of Chisago Lake, Wyoming and Lent Townships, into both municipalities.
The development boom also boosted population of the service area by about 30 percent. (Census comparisons, and state demographer statistics.) Township territory that once enjoyed fairly primitive law enforcement coverage shifted into city boundaries-- from far west and north of Chisago City to well south of Lindstrom. It’s hard to draw any comparison of costs, had the two cities continued to maintain free-standing operations versus the combined law enforcement services. But, one benefit was apparent from the outset and that was the improved manpower availability that the new LAPD could provide. Said Deputy Chief Bill Schlumbohm, who originally served as chief of the Chisago City department, “The greater good of the whole was what we kept our eye on. The departments each gave up something, a little at a time, knowing we had this goal.”
The headquarters started out split between the two city halls, then most of the administrative duties were consolidated into Lindstrom City Hall, with storage and some equipment kept at Chisago City Hall. There will come a time when a totally built from scratch LAPD headquarters will need to happen. There have been preliminary discussions about combining offices within a proposed fire hall project for Chisago City. And, members of the police commission scheduled a tour of vacant space at the medical campus in Chisago City just yesterday Jan 8. The new department created a need for a “police commission,” which would allow for equal voices representing the cities’ taxpayers. Two members from each city were appointed to sit on the commission from day one.
City administrators usually also attend commission meetings held the second Wednesday of the month. With police operations going to seven days a week, 24 hour a day coverage, one of the main reasons the merger was pursued had been achieved. Police Commission member Joe Sroga (Chisago City council) noted community policing programs, safety camp, trainings...none of this would have been as feasible for the two individual departments, but when departments combined this became possible.
Another commissioner--Lindstrom Mayor Keith Carlson said, “We probably floated the idea three or more times, it would come close (politically)but something always stopped it ...It seemed reasonable to me to look into this (merger) as far back as 1983,” which is approximately his first recollection of the topic of combined police departments. Financing of the department would be split 50-50 between the two cities, which was a positive sell for making the two departments one. The Chisago County Press reported that only a few thousand dollars separated the two Chisago and Lindstrom police department budgets in 2003.
LAPD Deputy Chief Schlumbohm noted that each city had two urban downtown areas and two schools, which equally tend to generate calls for service. Each city had similar public safety issues, both have lakes and water recreation. Highway 8 cuts through both cities and police personnel were familiar with issues the highway corridor provided. Calls for service numbers were split equally between the two cities and remain surprisingly equal, even 10 years later. And, last but not least, another factor behind the successful merger is that there’s just one school district within the police service area.
District decision-makers came along with the merger idea, which was important as LAPD liaison officers’ wages are funded 10 months of the year by the district. “Everybody bought into it,” commented Chief Stenson. “When it happened everything just kinda clicked,” added Schlumbohm.