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Lake Benton considers police contract

LAKE BENTON — City officials in Lake Benton are looking into a new alternative for police protection.

The city is considering a law enforcement contract with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office. A total of 24 hours per week would be designated for city police business.

Several city leaders met last week with the Lincoln County Board, who authorized Sheriff Chad Meester to proceed with further discussion of contract terms. A full proposal is expected to be brought back to the board for final approval.

Lake Benton’s police chief position has been vacant since June, 2019. The Sheriff’s Department has provided law enforcement coverage on an interim basis.

Council member David Enke said the police chief position has been vacant several times in the past few years. Like many other police chief positions in rural communities, it is often an entry level job for new officers, who then take jobs in larger departments in order to have the opportunity to earn a higher rank.

“In the past we’ve wanted to keep it local, with local oversight,” Enke said. “That’s changed because we’ve been through several fairly recent hiring processes. A contract with the county offers more stability.”

Lake Benton would become the second community in Lincoln County to contract for law enforcement hours. Hendricks purchases 10 hours per week in accordance with contract terms.

“The Hendricks agreement is something we’ll look at as a model,” Enke said. “We’ll see how it compares to our needs. It’s possible that we might want some minor differences.”

The cities of Tyler and Ivanhoe still have their own police chiefs, but receive mutual aid from the sheriff’s department when needed. They also are part of the county’s routine patrol process.

Meester said a contract with Lake Benton should fit well into his department’s budget since the city would pay for its coverage time.

He added that law enforcement contracts with cities are likely to work best when there’s enough flexibility to meet all of a city’s needs. Another important part of a contract plan is continuously open communication.

“A contract should be seen as a partnership,” Meester said. “We’ll do everything we can to help them out. It’s never a situation where it’s we and they. It’s about us.”

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