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Akeley police can no longer offer ride-alongs to citizens

AKELEY -- Citizen "ride-alongs" with Akeley police officers have been disallowed following an incident in December involving part-time officer Travis Carlson.

The council convened a special meeting Monday night to "review employee status" and address the policy allowing citizens to accompany officers on patrol, which had been permitted at the discretion of the police chief.

Liability issues, mayor Jennifer Mitchell warned, preclude the practice.

According to Carlson, who was on duty at the time of the Dec. 19 incident, he entered the Akeley municipal liquor store and recognized two people with outstanding warrants.

He confronted them and they fled, one of them throwing a beer bottle at him, injuring his knee, he said. A foot chase ensued.

He called for assistance, indicating "officer in distress" and asked his ride-along to drive the patrol car and meet him.

Meanwhile, Hubbard County deputies, Park Rapids officers and the State Patrol arrived on the scene, with both suspects apprehended.

Carlson said he arrested one of the men and the second was found in a home. Carlson said he apprehended the second suspect with the aid of a deputy.

Carlson was subsequently placed on administrative leave Dec. 21 for asking the citizen to drive the patrol car.

"The League (of Minnesota Cities) has big issues with citizen ride-alongs," mayor Jennifer Mitchell told the council in regard to insurance and liability issues that have surfaced in the past couple of years.

She stated the policy has been eliminated at the county level, students in law enforcement the posible exception.

A procedural policy addressing ride-alongs in Akeley had been drafted by police chief Eric Klein in 2007, requiring a liability waiver and permission from the police chief.

Carlson is contending no policy is in place precluding a citizen from driving the patrol car in this type of an emergency.

He is arguing under state law, "an officer can assist me in effecting a lawful arrest."

But the council disagreed.

Monday, council members refused to remove the incident from Carlson's employment record. (Carlson asked for a closed meeting with the council but offered the information after the meeting.)

He is currently seeking work as a police officer. His position as a part-time officer with the city ended Dec. 31. The council eliminated all part-time police officer positions and cut the chief's time in half as a cost-saving measure.

Monday, the council approved disallowing community member ride-alongs. Reserve officers or licensed officers will be allowed to accompany an Akeley police officer at special events such as Paul Bunyan Days and Hay Days.

"It has been a good opportunity to work for the citizens of Akeley," Carlson said Monday night. "I've enjoyed working with the good officers in the department.