A Minnesota town has stopped a plan to train police dogs in the common spaces and vacant apartments of a public housing high-rise amid questions over its legality.
A flier was posted to the door of Lakeview Apartments in Willmar, Minn., stating the town's police department would be using the apartments as a training area for K-9 officers starting last Friday for an unspecified length of time. It said the housing authority would provide no further notice to residents or guests.
The Police Department paused the training plan after the American Civil Liberties Union Minnesota sent a letter Friday to officials criticizing the planned exercises and questioning their legality
No law enforcement training has taken place there to date and the issue is under review, according to an e-mail from Police Chief Jim Felt. Willmar has two police dogs.
The training would create a "de facto police state," said the ACLU letter signed by Legal Director Teresa Nelson.
"This plan is bad public policy because it will disproportionately subject public housing residents, including low-income earners, immigrants, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to a police training experiment without their consent at a time in which our state is experiencing significant trauma related to police excessive force," the letter said.
The ACLU said the department runs the risk of liability for excessive use of force. It also said that arrests, stops and searches would likely be challenged due to lack of consent or lack of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Felt said the department did not intend to focus on individual residents or guests.
"I'm extremely disappointed in the misinformation and implications that the ACLU placed in their letter, along with their associated social media postings," he said by e-mail. "The Willmar Police Department works very hard to provide fair and impartial law enforcement to all community members and to continually build positive relationships with those we serve."
Lakeview Apartments, at 300 7th St. NW, is owned by the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority — a public entity that creates affordable housing. Online listings show rent is based on resident income, and the apartments are for low-income earners.
The housing authority said in the flier that it was pleased to provide the complex as a "training opportunity" for police officers.
Mayor Marv Calvin declined to comment to the Star Tribune, but he thanked Felt when he gave the City Council an update on the situation during its meeting Monday night.
"I know that this letter is as concerning to you as it is to myself and the council members," he said.
"I would hope that when news like this comes out we would first find out the facts before jumping to conclusions," said Council Member Vicki Davis, who is also on the Human Rights Commission. None of the other council members commented on the matter.
Council members Davis and Justin Ask, who is also a member of the Human Rights Commission, did not respond to the Star Tribune's request for comment.
Alex Chhith • 612-673-4759