The Minneapolis Police Department is counting on new officers to take the place of thousands of volunteer overtime hours worked fighting a crime surge throughout the city last year.
In 2006, the department spent more than $2 million on more than 66,000 hours of volunteer overtime or “buyback,” which officers work off duty. This year, the financially strapped department has just $250,000 for buyback and that money is frozen.
“Were trying to save as much money as we can,” said Assistant Chief Sharon Lubinski.
Lubinski said the department relied on buyback as a “Band-Aid” last year, but crime is down this year, and 60 new officers are in the pipeline. The new cops will be a more permanent solution to fighting crime in the city, she said. But the training process is long and police leaders are hoping to stay proactive about responding to crime during the wait.
The Police Department overran it’s roughly $116 million 2006 budget by several million dollars, requiring the City Council to pull $1.1 million from the city’s contingency fund to get through the year. Lubinski said the department is trying to curtail spending this year.
Buyback money is frozen as a reserve and is only to be used in emergencies in which on-duty officers aren’t available, she said.
“And frankly, $250,000 would go very quickly,” Lubinski said.
Officers who sign up for buyback get paid time-and-a-half, which usually averages $44-$45 an hour, she said.
Because the department was short-staffed during an increase in crime last year, roughly $2 million was moved from personnel – money used to pay salaries – to buyback. Another $1.2 million in state money for buyback was distributed among the Police Department and other agencies including the Sheriff’s Department and State Patrol.
The 5th Precinct spent $327,345 on 6,196 hours of buyback last year, said the precinct’s buyback coordinator Sgt. Barry Nelson. Many of the hours were spent dealing with robberies and other crimes at the corner of Lake Street and Pillsbury and in Steven’s Square. Sections of Uptown and Nicollet Avenue were among other focus areas, he said.
Nelson, who worked buyback hours himself last year, said this year’s buyback freeze won’t go unnoticed.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said such funding is not needed this year.
“This is exactly the direction we want to go in,” Rybak said.
He said buyback is necessary when there is an uptick in crime and it contributed to the improved position the city is in now, but new officers will reduce the city’s dependency on overtime dollars.
Lubinski said the hiring and training process for police officers takes several months, and some don’t make it through the process. Those who do are first rotated between two precincts for five and a half months before being permanently assigned.
Officers are usually distributed based on the percentage of 911 calls from areas throughout the city, she said. The department also loses 25-30 officers a year to attrition, so new officers are sent to wherever those vacancies might be. She was unsure exactly where new officers were going to be assigned this year, but said Downtown will probably get about a dozen, including four mounted-patrol cops.
Insp. Kristine Arneson from the 5th Precinct is hoping some of the new blue is sent her way. She said buyback made up for a staffing shortage last year, and with no buyback and no new officers yet, she’s in a difficult situation.
Though crime is down, burglaries, thefts and robberies continue to be a problem in Southwest, and Arneson is constantly rotating her staff to keep a lid on the crimes.
“We look at where the three largest areas of crime are in the precinct, and that’s where I focus my officers,” she said.
Some areas, such as Pillsbury Avenue and Lake Street, where gangs are a problem, have a constant police presence, she said.
Arneson said she is considering a request for some of the department’s buyback funds to help the precinct before new officers arrive. But there is a downside to buyback, she said.
“Burnout was an issue toward the end (of last year),” she said. “Everybody’s got a family.”
Some neighborhoods run their own buyback programs using NRP funds or money donated from the community.
Lyndale started a bike-cop program last year using neighborhood fundraising. That program will return, said Lyndale Neighborhood Association board member Michael Montrose, who coordinates the bike cops.
The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) runs a buyback program using NRP money. LEHNA coordinator Caroline Griepentrog said getting officers to sign up last year was tough because police had so many other buyback opportunities. She’s hoping this year’s lack of voluntary overtime funds makes the neighborhood’s program more appealing.
Scott Engel, community coordinator for the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group, said he noticed more officers on the street last year.
Whittier Alliance community organizer Josie Shardlow said her neighborhood lost some beat cops recently. She’s concerned there will not be enough officers in her neighborhood to battle recurring livability crimes.
Lubinski said officers are working their way through the training process and it’s only a matter of time.
“We’re doing a lot of hiring,” Lubinski said. “A lot of officer help is on the way.”
Reach Jake Weyer at 612-436-4367 or [email protected].