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City considers use of Albert Lea police in Hartland

The city of Albert Lea is contemplating assisting the city of Hartland in its effort to reduce its population of feral cats.

The plan, however, is being met with apprehension.

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday tabled authorizing an agreement with Hartland to conduct search warrants on issues regarding long grass, refuse, junk vehicles and animal control issues until the May 29 council meeting.

Hartland Mayor Deb Flatness reportedly approached the city with the idea about a year ago. She said Monday the city has received complaints regarding the number of cats one city resident has had for “years and years and years.”

“We have a particular situation where one particular person has felt compelled as a cat hoarder,” Flatness said.

She recalled seeing 20 cats in the resident’s house in one area and estimated there are at least 40 cats in the house. The resident reportedly keeps doors and windows open year-round, so cats frequently exit and enter the residence.

Flatness said the woman places cat dishes on private property and in other towns, so the cats come back to Hartland.

“While I understand the concern for the cats, our concern is for the health and well-being of citizens,” she said.

Sand at a neighboring playground has reportedly had to be removed, and neighbors have brought bags of cat feces to the resident requesting she clean up the waste.

“It is not healthy for the person inside; it is not healthy for the community,” Flatness said.

“People have actually moved because of that.” 

Since Flatness became mayor, she said the city has consulted with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, judges and League of Minnesota Cities and has re-worked city ordinances to ensure enforcement. The city still needs to be able to ensure a search warrant can be conducted, however, if compliance to the requirements has not been met.

Flatness estimated the city will only need assistance from Albert Lea officers two to three times a year to enforce search warrants.

The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office reportedly does not provide enforcement for search warrants regarding those cases in Hartland.

Albert Lea Deputy Director J.D. Carlson said police are “very familiar” with enforcing long grass, animal control, refuse and junk vehicle complaints.

Carlson said animal control is the the No. 1 enforcement issue in Hartland.

“On the rare occasion the city of Hartland needs law enforcement support to actually carry out an enforcement rather than just receiving phone calls and not being able to respond themselves, we’re going to support that in regards to our mission,” he said.

Carlson said that due to the abundance of cats, foxes and coyotes have entered the Hartland.

Officers would receive overtime pay for their work in Hartland, Carlson said, adding enforcing some ordinances would allow officers to help a smaller community.

Carlson said the agreement, which would initially last one year, would be highly scrutinized to ensure it is needed.

Albert Lea 3rd Ward Councilor Jason Howland questioned whether assisting Hartland would set a precedent.

“Let’s say we move forward with this and another community and another community comes to us and says, ‘We want you to do it for us as well,’” he said. “When is it too much?”

Carlson said the willingness of Albert Lea officers to log overtime hours would determine the future of the agreement.

“When would it stop?” he said. “When our officers choose to not take those overtime opportunities.”

Howland said he did not support the city assisting another city that is not in its jurisdiction. 

“While I can appreciate the concerns of the good folks in Hartland, Albert Lea taxpayers pay taxes to provide law enforcement here in Albert Lea,” he said. “Hartland taxpayers pay taxes to provide law enforcement with Freeborn County Sheriff’s Department.

“For me, I will be voting no, because I really feel like if they need law enforcement help, it should come from the county, not from the city.”

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks said he would have voted no to a final vote because he had not conducted enough research into the issue. 

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker introduced the motion to table the measure so the council would have more time to evaluate the proposal and said he would have voted no to support the measure if a final vote would have been Monday.

In a public forum, Humane Society of Freeborn County volunteer Dee Amberg expressed questions and concerns about the plan. She questioned why police want to conduct animal control in Hartland when they don’t do so in Albert Lea and asked what the cost of the agreement would be.

She said the city of Hartland rented out live traps to residents encouraging them to trap feral and stray cats and questioned why that was taking place. She offered to help with the issue for free and expressed concern over the safety of cats in Hartland.

“It’s 2018,” she said. “Clearly, trapping and killing cats is no longer an acceptable method of dealing with an animal issue.”

Amberg said trapping, neutering and releasing cats is the humane way to approach the situation. She expressed concern the approach would be used to control a vulnerable adult who cares for the cats “to an extreme.”

“This is not only a very disturbing thing, but I also find it morally wrong,” she said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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