Albert Lea officers partnering with neighboring small towns on quality of life issues

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Albert Lea Police Department is partnering with other communities in Freeborn County to provide enforcement of a handful of local ordinances in place for the quality of life of residents in those cities. 

The partnerships are with the cities of Alden, Conger, Clarks Grove and Manchester, and address issues such as animal control, refuse, junk vehicles and long grass complaints, said Albert Lea Public Safety Director J.D. Carlson. Work by the officers is done while off duty from their normal shifts in Albert Lea. 

Carlson said the department entered into its first agreement with one of the outside communities in  2018 when the city of Hartland had concerns about an abundance of cats. 

Carlson said former Albert Lea Detective Deb Flatness was the Hartland mayor at the time, and the city had no way of enforcing its local ordinances. He said the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office is not responsible for enforcement of that level of crime, so if the community didn’t have its own police department it wouldn’t be able to enforce those ordinances. 

The city entered into a service agreement with the city of Hartland and resolved the concern about the cats at the time, and then word got out fast to the other cities, he said. 

“One by one, some of these other communities reached out to us,” he said. 

Not wanting to take away from Albert Lea’s own staffing to offer the service, the Albert Lea officers complete any work for the other cities when off duty from their typical shifts. 

Staff in the other communities do all the prep work, including receiving the concern and then initially following up on that concern. 

It’s only when the person with the violation does not resolve the concern that the Albert Lea officers get involved. 

The officers provide a minimum of two hours of service at $100 an hour, in which they work to abate the concern. The officers are needed in some instances to get warrants that a city otherwise can’t obtain on their own. 

Carlson said there is no expense to the city of Albert Lea, and the city of Albert Lea bills the city with the contract, who then in turn bills the property owner who had the violation. 

He said so far the city has not completed any work in the city of Manchester, but the agreement is there in case a need arises. The city has already been in an agreement for one year there, and recently extended that agreement another two years. 

Alden and Conger have active concerns, while there are no active concerns being addressed in Clarks Grove. 

“We’ve been a resource as the hub of Freeborn County to these other communities,” Carlson said. 

Spencer Wacholz, city clerk in Alden, said ever since he started in his position, the City Council there told him that enforcement of ordinances was pretty lackluster in the city. 

“We weren’t sure what to do,” he said, noting they thought of hiring a retired police officer or a part-time position for someone with experience in law enforcement. 

Councilor Janelle Van Engelenburg reached out to Carlson, and they were able to set up an agreement. 

“It’s so our quality of life for our residents can increase,” Wacholz said. 

The agreement has been in place since March, and already the officers have removed 10 junk vehicles from the city, and they’re working on potentially removing some more. 

He said some residents have already contacted him, thanking him for the service agreement. 

Carlson noted the city of Albert Lea would accept agreements with other communities if those cities are interested. 

He said some may ask why the service is not being provided by the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office. He pointed to staffing shortages and said if the Sheriff’s Office were to take the program over, the city would be willing to support that. 

He said he wants to educate the other communities that this is a resource so if they see officers in town, they will know why they are there. 

“In the city of Albert Lea, people expect this service,” Carlson said. “In some of these other communities, they’re not used to it.”