NB police chief recommends suspension of Driver Awareness Program

North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer told the City Council Monday night that he thinks the city should suspend its Driver Awareness Program until the Minnesota Legislature can review the program to determine its legality.

The Sheriff’s Office implemented the Chisago County Driver Awareness Program in May 2013, a citation diversion effort that also received approval in North Branch. It is designed for drivers cited with certain non-serious speed, moving and equipment violations who may attend a traffic safety course rather than face prosecution and conviction for the traffic offense.

Upon successful completion of this two-hour traffic safety course, the driver’s traffic citation is voided and no citation is filed with the court.

Meyer explained he was recommending suspension of the program due to a recent ruling in a Wabasha County court that deemed that county’s program illegal.

“On Jan. 6 of this year, I was notified by the (Chisago County) Sheriff’s Office that they had suspended the DAP program after learning of a Wabasha County District Court ruling, and that ruling stated that the Wabasha County Safe Driving Class, which is comparable and similar, was not authorized by law,” Meyer said. “That day, we immediately suspended our program, as well. On Jan. 9, the Sheriff’s Office reviewed the Wabasha Court’s ruling, consulted with the County Attorney’s Office, and they decided to continue to run the program.”

Meyer was quick to note there are some key differences between the Wabasha County program and Chisago County’s version.

“It seems the main difference was that Wabasha County kind of argued that it was a pre-trial diversion program under the county attorney’s office; it can be argued that in Chisago County, the citations never went up to that level; they stayed with the department, so it’s more of like an officer discretion program,” he said.

Council Member Trent Jensen asked Meyer if he thought the city would be safe to continue with the program, since it’s a county initiative.

“Isn’t the county carrying the risk on this?” he asked.

Meyer responded that he thinks the city could still be liable if someone were to take legal action against the program.

“Since we’re participating, I think the city would also carry some risk, as well,” he said. “If there is a potential lawsuit or something like that, we would be certainly named as defendants.”

The council decided to table the issue until the next meeting because it wanted to consult with the city attorney, who was not at the meeting.

Other council actions

• The council listened to a 2013 crime activity reported presented by Meyer.

“During the year, we responded to and handled 8,915 incidents and calls for service,” Meyer said. “Much of our increase over last year can be (attributed) to our department doing a better job of documenting some of our proactive activities, such as business and park checks, community policing activities and so forth. Just some things to note: Over the past year, we have seen some increases in several areas, including commercial alarms, residential burglaries, thefts from vehicles, motor vehicle crashes, suspicious activity complaints and disputes and verbal domestics. Decreases were seen in some areas, including animal noise, parking and burning complaints.”

• The council approved the purchase of a new squad car for the Police Department. The price of the vehicle, a 2014 Ford Police Interceptor AWD, is $26,204.82. The department is purchasing the vehicle from Nelson Auto in Fergus Falls. The department asked Anderson & Koch Ford in North Branch for a quote on a price, but the local dealership said it could not match the price quoted by Nelson Auto.

• The council approved a two-month trial period for accepting private-hauler septage at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

“The types of waste we would accept is residential waste only — no commercial, no industrial and no portable restroom waste,” Public Works Director Shawn Williams said. He said if the trial works, he would come back to the council after the trial period with a request to keep the program going.

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