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Esko contracts with county for dedicated deputy

Thomson Township/Esko will soon have its very own law enforcement officer for the first time since the township’s only police officer left to take another job in August 2015.

Since then the township has been contracting with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office for extra shifts to cover the township, while a law enforcement committee studied how the township had and could provide law enforcement services to its residents.

Even when they had a full-time police officer, Thomson Township Chairperson Terry Hill said the sheriff’s department covered the township when the officer wasn’t on duty.

“So 75 percent of the time it was the sheriff’s department anyway,” Hill said. “One officer can only cover approximately 20-25 percent in a 40-hour work week, but we’ve always had law enforcement coverage.”

The committee and township officials ultimately decided they wanted to continue working with the sheriff’s department, but pay for a deputy that would be assigned to Thomson Township full-time as “their” deputy.

On Monday, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a request from the Sheriff’s Office to hire another deputy and fill the position in Thomson Township.

Carlton County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Belich explained that the township signed a three-year law enforcement services contract along with a letter of understanding that outlines some of the working expectations of the position. Thomson Township will pay for all expenses related to the position and support to include 1,960 hours of law enforcement coverage.

At the end of the day, it will be cheaper for the township than paying overtime wages for deputies, he noted. It does mean the department will be hiring another deputy, either for the position or to backfill if an existing deputy applies for the Thomson Township spot.

Hill said the township is excited about having a deputy dedicated to the township.

“We want someone who can get the pulse of the community,” Hill said, “who knows the community and whom the community can get to know; someone who can work one-on-one with our schools and know their needs, and just know when something doesn’t look right.”

At the same time, by contracting with the county rather than trying to staff their own department, the township won’t have to purchase capital equipment like a squad car, computer, etc., or be responsible for hiring staff or training.

Hill should know, he worked for nearly 25 years in the Cloquet Police Department, retiring as assistant police chief a couple years ago.

Hill added that the Thomson Township supervisors agreed the community expects to have a dedicated officer and it’s the right thing to do.

“We’re a growing community with new businesses, residents moving in and if we didn’t have a police department, [all the coverage] would fall on the shoulders of the sheriff’s department, which is spread pretty thin,” he said. “Plus having this dedicated position will also allow us to cover a lot of community events in Esko like Esko Fun Days, football games, the 5K race, things like that.

“You want the officer to have that community connection.”

In other matters Monday, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners took the following actions:

  • Approved a resolution accepting $274,545 from the Taconite Tax Fund to be used for economic development, which is an annual payment to the county;

  • Voted to support a grant that would allow St. Louis County to hire two case managers to work with Drug Court participants, particularly in the area of mental health, according to Tom Proulx, who is the probation officer for Drug Court and the County Board chair; and

  • Heard that Carlton County, in partnership with Fond du Lac Reservation, was awarded a 2016 Department of Human Services Commissioner’s “Circle of Excellence Award” for the School Linked Mental Health Program. The programs was one of eight programs selected this year.