WILLMAR, Minn. — Planned police K-9 training at Lakeview Apartments in Willmar has been put on hold while the city officials review concerns from the ACLU of Minnesota, according to Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt.

“No training exercises will be conducted at the Lakeview Apartment complex while this matter and the concerns raised are under review,” Felt wrote in an email, who also added that no law enforcement training, including K-9s, has taken place at the apartment complex to date.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt.

West Central Tribune file photo
Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt. West Central Tribune file photo

The ACLU was alerted to the training after a flyer was posted around the apartment complex, owned and operated by the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, to notify residents the Willmar Police Department had partnered with the HRA to provide a space for K-9 training.

“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,” reads part of the letter the ACLU of Minnesota sent to sent to the HRA, Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin and the entirety of the Willmar City Council. “It will undoubtedly result in some residents and guests feeling like they are in a hostile environment, and it will likely result in more trauma merely by the officers and their dogs being present – always present.”

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According to the flyer, the agreement would give police access to all interior and exterior grounds of the complex to conduct that training at any hour, including days, evenings and weekends.

“Such a scheme would essentially forcefully convert the homes and living spaces of all of the Lakeview residents into a de facto police state,” reads part of the ACLU’s letter.

The letter also outlined legal concerns with the agreement, citing the risk of stops, searches and arrest of residents that could put law enforcement at odds with constitutional restrictions.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the misinformation and implications that the ACLU placed in their letter, along with the associated social media postings,” Felt wrote. “WPD works very hard to provide fair and impartial law enforcement to all community members and to continually build positive relationships with those we serve.”

Felt wrote that his department was not contacted by the ACLU before the letter was sent and that they had not received any questions or concerns from the community directed towards the department.

The city is currently reviewing the concerns raised by the ACLU and legal counsel is now involved, according to Felt.

“At no time was it the intention of the Willmar Police Department for this training to focus on individual residents of the Lakeview Apartment complex, their guests or occupied units in the complex,” Felt wrote.

The ACLU of Minnesota also requested all data from the city regarding the partnership between the HRA and WPD to conduct K-9 training at Lakeview Apartments.

Mayor Calvin, the Kandiyohi County HRA and HRA Willmar City Council member Audrey Nelson did not respond to a request for information before publication.

The ACLU of Minnesota did not respond to a request for comment before publication.