Olson makes police cuts, halves crime-prevention

Fewer investigations and SAFE teams -- but more traffic cops who pay for themselves writing tickets

The Minneapolis City Council voted April 1 to accept Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson's plan to eliminate 169 jobs from the force effective April 15. Olson reduced the 2003 police budget by $7.5 million in response to Governor Tim Pawlenty's proposed cuts to local government aid (LGA).

That number represents 15 percent of the department. The previously authorized force of 854 will fall to 752. Twenty-five sworn officers will be laid off; other reductions will come from retirements, unfilled vacancies, normal attrition and transfers to Convention Center and Water Works budgets.

How will cuts affect neighborhoods?

"The neighborhoods probably aren't really going to see a ton of difference," said Olson. "We haven't cut our community response teams or our 911 responders. So far, we've been able to keep cuts of those folks who are out on the street to a minimum."

Olson did eliminate 11 of the city's 25 SAFE teams, a sworn officer and civilian who work together to prevent crime. Currently, there are seven SAFE teams working throughout Southwest.

Deputy Chief Greg Hestness, a former commander of Southwest's 5th Precinct, said, "Some neighborhoods will notice that there are less SAFE teams. That will be a tough thing. But most of the cuts are from investigative positions."

Hestness, a Southwest resident, said that from what his neighbors tell him they are generally pleased with police presence in the area.

He credited local neighborhood associations working in conjunction with police and SAFE units for helping to reduce area crime rate and making it a desirable place to live. But he acknowledged that there may be some decrease in patrol staff.

The boundaries of the city's remaining 14 SAFE teams will be enlarged. The sworn officers of those units will go back to a beat while their civilian partners will be laid off.

Cuts -- and growth

The 24 cops patrolling city schools will be cut in half. The remaining dozen will be stationed in the city's seven high schools and five junior high schools. Nine sergeants were demoted. Other savings include a 10 percent cut in non-personnel items such as equipment and training and a concentrated effort to reduce $1.8 million in overtime the department rang up last year.

Olson said the good news was that none of the city's five precincts were eliminated.

Despite across-the-board reductions, the police traffic division staff will be increased from 12 to 24. The theory is that more traffic cops will write more tickets and pay for themselves

Will the crime rate go up?

Hestness said department leaders are focused on making sure the crime rate doesn't rise.

"Our priority is to get the most bang for the buck," said Hestness. "The bottom line is that we have to have adequate response to 911 calls and to true emergencies. But our biggest strategy remains prevention, and going after the root causes of crime."

That is the job of the Community Response Teams, officers not in squad cars who proactively interrupt criminal processes once they have been identified. Hestness said the reason serious crime is down 40 percent over the past four years is because of their work.

What will suffer is the response times for less serious calls, and investigators who won't have as much support as in the past to investigate individual cases.

"There will be a lot of investigations that don't take place," said Hestness. "They'll be prioritized and the ones that have a potential to be solved will be attended to and the ones that are less likely to be solved will not. There will also be fewer secondary investigations."

Unfortunately, the worst may not be over. The proposed 2004 budget plan calls for $11.6 million of cuts that may require 53 more layoffs.

"If the legislature imposes further reductions on us, it will force our department into becoming primarily a responsive organization," said Olson. "Cops will be slower to respond, and we will not be able to sustain the significant crime reduction that we have made over the past five years."