Beginning Jan. 1, sheriff's deputies will not patrol the streets of Foley, Minn. The city council has voted unanimously to hire a private security firm to take over the job.
City leaders say it's a unique response to the budget crunch caused by cuts in state aid, but one other cities may soon consider emulating.
The Benton County Sheriff wanted the city of Foley to pay about $280,000 for three deputies to patrol its streets next year. But the city of 2,600 saw its state aid payments cut by more than $150,000 this year, and the city council was looking for ways to save money next year.
Foley stands to save more than $80,000 by hiring General Security Services Corporation to patrol the city. The private contractors will carry firearms, and make citizen's arrests. They cannot make traffic stops or investigate crimes.
"We thought if we could hire a security firm to come in, and basically take care of the ordinances for the city and the general nuisance items that go on in town, that would take care of most of the things we needed to get done," council member Dean Weber said.
The sheriff's department would still respond to 911 calls. But a spokesman for the sheriff warned the city council's decision will have negative consequences for its citizens.
"The best-case scenario: We'll have one deputy for nine townships, which Foley is a part of," Chief Deputy Troy Heck said. "You're going to see fewer patrols coming through the area, longer response times, just generally less police service."
The sheriff's office hasn't decided how to deal with the impact on its budget, Heck said.
County and municipal budgets statewide have been strained by cuts in state aid.
Weber said he's not aware of any other cities replacing their police forces with private contractors, but that might change.
"It's going to be a trial and we'll see how it goes. If it goes well, I imagine there'll be a lot of other cities looking at it," Weber said.
Weber is optimistic, but if it doesn't go well, the council will consider hiring a police chief to oversee the private contractors. Weber said that would still be cheaper than a new contract with the county sheriff.