Neighborhood cops pricey

Neighborhoods have spent more than $600,000 for extra police patrols in the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), contracting with off-duty officers and paying them time-and-a-half.

Some say in tight budget times it is an inefficient way to fund public safety. City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), chair of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, said he would prefer to run the money through the police department budget and pay officers straight time, stretching public funds further.

It is part of the tug-of-war in reshaping NRP as it enters Phase II. The question is: How to balance community-directed spending envisioned under NRP with efficient spending? The current setup has a cost. Had neighborhoods paid straight time instead of time-and-a-half, they would have saved $200,000 on police services over several years, or purchased 50 percent more

police time.

If the police department accommodated individual neighborhood requests for special patrols, it would cause scheduling problems, Niziolek said. Neighborhoods do not coordinate requests among each other; shifts are often short. Added staff might not be working at the times requested.

In Southwest, four neighborhoods have used what is known as the buy-back program. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) has spent $61,000; Kenwood spent $57,600, Tangletown $32,000 and East Calhoun $6,000.

Pauline Hoogmoed, treasurer for LHENA’s NRP Steering Committee, said the neighborhood is very happy with the program. Officers bike and walk the street, talk to residents and deter crimes such as car break-ins.

"If people know there will be police around on a more regular basis, then they are not going to target that area,"

Hoogmoed said. "We don’t know if crimes have been prevented — because they didn’t happen."

The issue of paying time-and-a-half versus straight time hasn’t surfaced at the neighborhood, she said. She preferred paying off-duty officers time-and-a-half for overtime beyond their regular shift, "so it is not taking away from any other neighborhood’s police protection," she said.

"They have done their regular job already, and we are just paying for their extra time," Hoogmoed said. "We are not trying to say we are special, like we get more police. We are paying police on their off hours, which to me seems fair."

Sgt. Barry Nelson of the 5th Precinct said the shifts are typically no more than four hours long. Lowry Hill East bike patrols can hit a street two to three times a shift and pay special attention to high traffic areas, such as Franklin, Hennepin and Lyndale avenues.

"We don’t get too many arrests on the bike beat," he said. "It is the DKs [drunks] and the panhandles — when they see us, they take off and go someplace else."

Some neighborhoods request general patrols, others have specific projects, he said. Tangletown, which includes Ramsey International Fine Arts School, 1 W. 49th St. and Washburn High, 201 W. 49th St., asked for extra bike patrols the first week of school. East Calhoun has requested special patrols in May to address boom cars and chronic problems with traffic law violations.

Bob Miller, NRP’s executive director, called the current setup "inefficient," but the neighborhoods didn’t choose it, he said.

The neighborhoods asked for help, and the Police Department recommended the

buy-back program at overtime rates.

"When neighborhoods began making arrangements for this type of service, they were pretty nave," Miller said. "There are a lot of different questions about what we may be able to do to make it more streamlined and cost-effective. Nobody wants to pay time-and-a-half."

NRP will work with the Police Department to get more bang for the buck, while making sure the program is responsive to neighborhood needs, he said.

Niziolek said one solution would be to fund the Police Department at a higher level so the neighborhoods wouldn’t have to spend so much NRP money for public safety.

Another option would be to put the money in the precinct’s budget, pay straight time and have the neighborhoods help set policing priorities.

"Right now, they [neighborhoods] just get a little money," Niziolek said. "[Neighborhood groups] should be a part of all the allocations of our resources, not just their little pot of money. That is what NRP is all about, reintroducing residents into the allocation of city resources."