Residents say police too picky in New York Mills
By Joe Bowen
NEW YORK MILLS, Minn. – Some residents in this Otter Tail County city are worried that what they see as overly picky policing may be hurting businesses.
“We’re a very small community, and there’s a very big police presence,” said Rena Hali, who runs Mills Auto Parts.
A group of residents spoke out about what they think is overzealous traffic enforcement during a public forum at a City Council meeting earlier this month in New York Mills, a city of about 1,200 people that is 90 minutes southeast of Fargo on U.S. Highway 10.
Hali argued that the police presence, which she said results in more tickets for minor traffic offenses, costs her business.
“My customers are not coming from Sebeka anymore, they’re not coming from Verndale anymore. They’re not. Every store, every business here loses that money,” she said.
Kenneth Friese echoed her sentiment: “I had one guy pulled over, he was told he didn’t stop long enough. Thirty-three (mph) in a 30 is getting a little nitpicky. And this does get around, and it does affect the businesses in the town. If somebody blows through the stop sign, they’re going to get a ticket like they should. If somebody doesn’t count to three, that’s different.”
Dolly Tumberg, owner of Mills Lanes, a bowling alley, argued that police were driving potential new residents out of town.
"I personally talked to someone who said, 'I was looking for a house in Mills but have chosen to reconsider because of what's happening,' " she said.
Not everyone at the meeting was upset with the police. Tom Saewert defended the town’s police force, saying he appreciates heightened enforcement of seat-belt laws, for instance.
Dennis Swenson, the most vocal of the police department’s critics, first brought his complaints to the table at a June meeting of the City Council.
At the July 8 meeting, he imposed a deadline.
“You got 30 days to get rid of him,” he said, gesturing to Chief Jim Van Schaick, “and two part-timers, or I’m going to have a citizen petition to you that he leaves.”
According to City Attorney Dennis Happel, Swenson’s proposed petition would not remove Van Schaick or any other officers from the force.
“As far as I know, there’s no way to remove them. A petition would express what their thoughts are. We’d have to refer that to the appropriate committee and take it up and see what to do, if anything,” Happel said.
Councilman Josh Hoaby said he’s aware of the issues some have with police in New York Mills, and he hopes there’s a solution. He said the council “will have to have a couple of meetings because that’s just the way it’s gotta go.”
“You obviously can’t just fire a person,” he said.
Councilman Jason Schik said, “until we go through those meetings, we don’t know what path we’re headed down. I feel we take it a step at a time.”
These responses did not sit well with many in attendance, particularly after City Clerk Darla Berry explained that the council legally couldn’t take action between monthly meetings, and that the first step would be getting recommendations from said committees.
Berry said the Police Committee will meet and draft a recommendation before the City Council meeting in August.
After the room had largely emptied later in the meeting, Van Schaick told council members he wanted them to know the department is “doing everything in our power to serve the community in which I live.”