Police layoffs: 25 sworn, 31 non-sworn positions

Despite being earlier targeted for elimination, many community crime prevention specialists were spared from cuts in the 2010 city budget

With the City Council’s adoption Dec. 7 of the city’s 2010 budget, more than two dozen of the Minneapolis Police Department’s sworn officers will be laid off. However, two visible and popular programs — community crime prevention and the mounted patrol — will be largely spared despite earlier recommendations that they be done away with entirely.

Of the 25 sworn officers to be laid off, 19 are from an incoming recruit class. Additionally, 31 non-sworn positions — support specialists, typists, records supervisors, etc. — will not be funded in 2010.

Some of the 25 positions could be rehired for at least three years if the city receives a federal grant it’s seeking, Budget Director Heather Johnston said.

Throughout the budget creation process, council members likened what they were doing to cutting bone, not just cutting to the bone. Several said it was the hardest budget they’d ever worked on, and they spent more than the usual amount of time finding ways to deal with a $100 million total budget reduction largely brought on by state cuts to Local Government Aid. One budget committee meeting lasted from 1 p.m. until well after 10 p.m.

The committee had been especially challenged by a near-last second discovery that the Police Department overspent by $3 million its current budget, meaning council members had to find an additional $3 million plug on top of an already-expected $5.4 million cut.

After hours of retooling the budget, much of the unexpected gap will be dealt with through attrition of positions over the next two years. The $5.4 million cut also got a late overhaul.

In particular, council members made a point to spare many of the city’s 21 crime-prevention specialists, who act as liaisons between community members and the department. Their positions were going to be eliminated for 2010 under a proposal from Police Chief Tim Dolan.

“The reality is they do a very valuable job for the Police Department,” Dolan had said. “We all know that. They have for many, many years. To say we’ll have officers step in and do the same job would be untruthful. …  It’s just something at this point in our budget we cannot afford.”

Members of the budget committee clearly disagreed with that last sentence. From the start of many hours’ worth of budget mark-up meetings, they said they wanted to bring community crime prevention back into the police budget.

“I don’t think I’m alone in saying that we want a Police Department that’s in touch with residents,” Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward) said.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) proposed the bulk of changes to refund the specialists, which started with reallocating thousands of dollars in community development block grant money. Graffiti removal and Homegrown Minneapolis both took hits to help fund about a dozen community crime-prevention staffers.

Also, because those block grants can only be used toward specific parts of the city — not including areas such as Southwest — about a quarter million dollars from the city’s general fund was reallocated. The exact number of jobs saved by the committee wasn’t available when this edition of the Southwest Journal went to press, but it’s expected to be about two-thirds of the specialists.

“We will not have the amount of coverage we’ve had before, but we’ll at least have some coverage in all parts of the city,” budget committee Chairman Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said.

Dolan’s initial proposal was unwelcome news for many Southwest neighborhood associations that rely on crime-prevention specialists for a variety of services including block club organizing, relaying crime trends, managing court-watch efforts and soliciting community impact statements.

“I think the connection to the Police Department is something that’s very important to the neighborhood and [the specialists] provide that,” said CARAG Executive Coordinator Scott Engel.

Engel said the specialists have already seemed overextended in recent years and to eliminate them would have been disappointing.

Crime-prevention specialists are part of a program called Community Crime Prevention/Safe (CCP/Safe) that was cut substantially in 2003, when “safe” officers who worked directly with their civilian counterparts were eliminated.

Tom Thompson, who has worked as a crime-prevention specialist since 2000 and is now assigned to the 5th Precinct, said he’s been watching for more substantial cuts since.

“I kind of felt the winds were blowing in this direction,” he said days after receiving notice about his potential layoff.

Though some crime-prevention specialists will lose their jobs under the adopted budget, Thompson, who spent 18 years as a sworn officer and chief in Wisconsin, was glad to see most will not. He said he took on the job because it was unique and he recognized a big benefit of strong community engagement: trust. That, along with the importance of understanding the community’s needs is why CCP/Safe should continue to exist, he said.

“I’m very happy that the City Council sees the value in this program,” he said.  

The council did add one stipulation for refunding community crime prevention: The Police Department will have to regularly report on the program’s work and ensure it is meeting goals. Some council members said that while many crime-prevention specialists are great at their jobs, there seem to be others who disappoint. Council Member Don Samuels (5th Ward) said that at times, he found it to be difficult to even want to save the program.

Another visible aspect of the Police Department was also spared, to an extent. Dolan had proposed eliminating the department’s mounted patrol division entirely, but Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and others said no other division can handle issues such as Downtown late-night rowdiness as well. One mounted officer, Goodman said, can do the work of five officers on foot.

Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office offered a last-day proposal to take some money from the Minneapolis Convention Center to pay for mounted patrol. Rybak aide Peter Wagenius said the reallocation could mean some changes to the division’s focus, possibly having to emphasize crowd safety surrounding conventions — or at least keep largely to Downtown.

Also, the division will only have enough funding to cover one kind of regular shift for mounted officers: late night. However, Dolan said, that should deal with the concerns about crowds after bars close, Dolan said.

For more on the city’s 2010 budget, go to Civic Beat, page A4.