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Peeved at the police: Some NYM residents say ‘nitpicky’ enforcement is hurting businesses

Several New York Mills residents voiced their concerns, sometimes angrily, about the city’s police force during a public forum at Monday’s city council meeting.

Their chief concern was the enforcement of traffic laws in the city and surrounding area, and the perceived detrimental effect on local businesses.

“We’re a very small community, and there’s a very big police presence,” said Rena Hali, who runs Mills Auto Parts.

She argued that the police presence, which she said results in more tickets for less egregious traffic offenses, loses money for her business.

“My customers are not coming from Sebeka any more, they’re not coming from Verndale anymore. They’re not. Every store, every business here loses that money,” she said.

Kenneth Friese echoed her sentiment: “I had one guy pulled over, he was told he didn’t stop long enough. Thirty-three (mph) in a 30 is getting a little nitpicky. And this does get around, and it does affect the businesses in the town. If somebody blows through the stop sign, they’re going to get a ticket like they should. If somebody doesn’t count to three, that’s different.”

Dolly Tumberg, owner of Mills Lanes, argued that police were driving potential new residents out of town, saying, “I personally talked to someone who said, ‘I was looking for a house in Mills but have chosen to reconsider because of what’s happening.’ That’s just one person who’s told me what’s happening.”

Of the meeting’s attendees, not all were upset with the police department. 

Tom Saewert defended the town’s police force, saying “I have to tell you that I appreciate what our police force has done.”

He went on to say that, “we as a community and a state have decided that’s what we want (increased seatbelt enforcement) and we ask these guys to enforce it…if you don’t want us to enforce the laws we’ve told you to enforce, it’s wrong.”

Dennis Swenson, the most vocal of the police department’s critics, first brought his complaints to the table at last month’s city council meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, he imposed a deadline.

“You got 30 days to get rid of him,” he said, gesturing to Chief Jim Van Schaick, “and two part-timers or I’m going to have a citizen petition to you that he leaves.”

According to City Attorney Dennis Happel, Swenson’s proposed petition would not remove Van Schaick or any other officers from the force.

“As far as I know, there’s no way to remove them. A petition would express what their thoughts are. We’d have to refer that to the appropriate committee and take it up and see what to do, if anything,” Happel said.

Council member Josh Hoaby attempted to address the crowd, saying, “I do realize that there are a lot of people in town who think there’s a problem… I hope we can come to a solution that’s equitable for everybody. We will have to have a couple meetings because that’s just the way it’s gotta go. You obviously can’t just fire a person… For anything that happens, there’s a process that needs to happen.”

Betsy Roder, another council member, explained that meetings will have to happen in committees first.

Council member Jason Schik said, “until we go through those meetings, we don’t know what path we’re headed down. I feel we take it a step at a time.”

These responses did not sit well with many in attendance, particularly after City Clerk Darla Berry explained that the council legally couldn’t take action between monthly meetings, and that the first step would be getting recommendations from said committees.

Many in attendance left the room after hearing the news, and could still be heard talking amongst themselves outside the chamber.

In a follow-up telephone interview on Tuesday, Berry said the Police Committee will be meeting and will draft a recommendation before next month’s city council meeting.

After the public requests ended and the room had largely emptied, Van Schaick used the first moments of his departmental report to reaffirm his commitment to the city.

“First and foremost, I want to be sure the council knows we are doing everything in our power to serve the community in which I live,” he said.