Small MN Town Privatizes its Police Force

Foley, MN has privatized its police.

Yesterday, wearing uniforms and carrying sidearms, security guards began doing 24-hour patrols every day of the week on the shady streets of Foley, a community of 2,600 surrounded by farmland, northeast of St. Cloud.

The cost-saving move has triggered worry among some that town leaders may have gone too far, taking some life-or-death responsibilities out of the hands of those with the legal authority to enforce the law.

“It’s a social experiment and it’s polarizing,” said Steve Olson, a Foley Town Council member who called the deal “the best we could do with the resources we’ve got.”

“Each side is struggling to accept it, and I believe they will have to, eventually,” he said.

While many cities and towns pay for private guard details to supplement the work of badge-carrying deputies and police, often within discrete institutions like schools and hospitals, Foley is the first town in Minnesota and one of a few nationally to try relying solely on private guards for street patrols.

“I’m not aware of another place where they have gone to the extent of Foley, Minnesota,” said Jeff Flint, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies. His organization is watching the deal to see how it might influence other towns struggling with shrinking law enforcement budgets, he said.

County sheriffs are still on hand to work with the security guards when someone has to be hauled to jail or backup is needed. If they can reach a good working relationship, there is no reason this experiment cannot work for a town this size, or even in some larger scale settings.