Taking a bite out of the police budget

Reducing spending $12 million by 2008 will be hard to do

Spending for the Minneapolis Police Department -- an estimated $100 million in 2003 -- accounts for nearly one out of every three dollars the city raises through property taxes.

The police department -- although a core city service -- will take a hit as the city prepares for lean money times. The police, as other departments, will continue to get budget increases, but not large enough to keep up with rising costs, particularly wages.

The city's Financial Work Group -- the mayor and three council members -- estimates that the city needs $55 million cut from inflationary increases by 2008. As its share, the police department would have to spend $12 million less by 2008-- about 10 percent less than what it would cost to provide today's police services.

In other words, the police department needs $129 million in 2008 to provide the same services it provides this year, according to city budget staff. Under the Work Group's plan, it would get $117 million in 2008.

The City Council approved the plan Jan. 31.

For comparison, the 5th Precinct's 2003 budget is roughly $7 million, city figures said. The 5th Precinct covers Southwest Minneapolis.

If the 5th Precinct budget grew by 5.5 percent annually -- the amount needed to maintain service levels -- it would reach $9 million by 2008. If the police department eliminated the entire 5th Precinct -- which it is not going to do -- it still wouldn't get the savings it needs to close the $12 million gap.

The police department is now working on its five-year business plan to set priorities and recommended service cuts, city staff said.

Solutions would likely involve staffing decisions, because staff costs account for 82 percent of the budget, said Marty Rafferty, the department's operations manager.

Some service demands are inflexible; for instance, 911 calls are not going to change dramatically, said Deputy Chief Rick Schultz, Bureau Chief of Central Services. But the department could evaluate priority responses, dealing with some types of calls at a later time.

CCP/SAFE Some City Councilmembers have discussed reducing or eliminating the Community Crime Prevention/SAFE program -- shifting duties to other departments. The program pairs a sworn officer with a civilian crime-prevention specialist to work with neighborhoods or communities. The 5th Precinct now has five SAFE teams.

Cutting SAFE's civilians would preserve the department's officer corps while providing approximately one-eighth of the cuts needed by 2008.

In 2002, the city had a total of 34 civilian crime-prevention specialists and supervisors, said department spokesperson Cyndi Barrington. They had annual salaries of $1.6 million (benefit information was not immediately available).

The department is adding 12 traffic enforcement positions in 2003, Schultz said. Ticket revenue should cover the cost.

"Traffic is an overlooked area in our budget," he said. "It goes to 911. They don't always have time to focus on traffic."