Policing and race relations took center stage at a city council forum in Falcon Heights Monday night, where seven candidates vying for two seats answered questions from voters.
About 80 people attended the 90-minute event, which was the first where all seven candidates appeared before the public. Candidates say the city is still struggling after a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile in July 2016.
Candidates answered questions submitted by the public on subjects ranging from the city’s parks to environmental practices, with a major focus on the future of Falcon Heights policing.
Falcon Heights is preparing to contract with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office — the only police force to respond to the city’s request for service — after the St. Anthony City Council voted to end its police service contract with Falcon Heights starting in January.
The four sitting council members in Falcon Heights will finalize the contract before new members take office in January, but whoever wins the November election will make future police contracts, said Mark Miazga, one of the city council candidates and a University research coordinator.
Falcon Heights should require Ramsey County sheriffs to provide monthly traffic stop reports broken down by race, receive implicit bias training and hire officers who will think like “a social worker, not a warrior,” Miazga said in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.
Ramsey County’s service will cost more than St. Anthony’s, said Melanie Leehy, one of the city council candidates.
“We’re looking at a 34 percent increase in property taxes, and that’s just unimaginable,” saidCouncil Member Tony Fischer, the sole incumbent in the race.
After the election, city council members will need to come up with creative solutions to address rising costs, Leehy said.
Citizens need to decide what they are willing to pay for police service, and financing quality police service could mean higher taxes, said Tom Brace, another council candidate.
If the new contract doesn’t work out due to costs or other reasons, exploring alternative police options again should be considered, said Ronald Dixon, a city council candidate and recent University of Minnesota graduate.
But policing should be a priority in Falcon Heights, according to Brace.
“It might well be worth the money,” he said.