Community notebook: Police layoffs

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December 7, 2009 // UPDATED 10:25 am - December 7, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes and Jake Weyer
Cristof Traudes and Jake Weyer

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 — have been 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. About two-thirds of the specialists’ jobs are expected to be saved.

“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 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.

Luther Krueger, a crime prevention analyst who worked for more than a decade as one of two crime prevention specialists Downtown, said in a private interview that he had a hard time imagining the city without the position.

The specialists are in regular contact with community members, organize block clubs, relay crime trends, manage court-watch efforts and solicit community impact statements, he said. Downtown, Krueger said he also met regularly with rental property owners and bar managers to be proactive about crime prevention. Maintaining that community-policing effort without crime-prevention specialists would be difficult, he said.

“It’s not as easy when you’ve only got people whose primary duties are enforcement and response,” he said.

Bob Hansen, chairman of the livability committee for Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC), said the neighborhood could attribute its low crime rate largely to years of engagement and leadership from crime prevention specialists.

“We have a super relationship with them,” Hansen said. “It’s kind of a direct line right into the Police Department.”

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.

Sam Grabarski, president of the Downtown Council, said mounted patrol are pivotal to the area.

“The crowd perceives them as being kind and docile, which they are by training and temperament,” Grabarski said. “But when it’s time for the crowd to be dispersed, no one, even the most belligerent reveler on a late night in the Warehouse District, argues with the mounted patrol.”

For more on the city’s 2010 budget, click here.



Meet Minneapolis releases holiday survey results

An online survey conducted in November by Meet Minneapolis revealed that more than 40 percent of Minnesotans look forward to the holiday festivities of downtown Minneapolis most when the holiday season rolls around.  

Spending time with family and friends comes first for most of the 1,500 respondents, but Downtown events prove to be a staple in their holiday traditions as well.

According to the survey, 31 percent of people head Downtown for a taste of the city’s wide range of restaurants. A larger crowd of 41 percent, however, is drawn to the city for the lively events that are characteristic of the Minneapolis holiday season. Topping the list is Macy’s eighth floor auditorium display, which more than 50 percent of respondents cherish the most. Macy’s Santaland is back this season for its 47th year with “A Day in the Life of an Elf” theme.

The Minneapolis holiday tradition coming in a close second is the Target Holidazzle Parade, followed by shopping in the Downtown district. Some less-common holiday traditions, such as ice skating at The Depot and seeing “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie Theater, are often missed out on according to the survey but are no doubt worth city-goers’ time.

While Minnesotans responded that they would be watching their spending this year, the majority of respondents (56 percent) said that they would be looking to save time as well as money. Decisions about holiday activities and shopping are based on how much people can do in the shortest amount of time. The survey also indicated that people make shopping decisions based on parking; 44 percent rely on it being free.

Melvin Tennant, CEO and president of Meet Minneapolis, said that they’d like to dispel the misconception that there is no free parking Downtown. “The City of Minneapolis spent significant dollars to re-design and implement a road and parking system that is conducive to moving in, around and out of the downtown area,” he said. “There is an abundance of free parking, and even more-so around the holidays.”


North Loop

Police dog dies in line of duty Downtown

The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) lost one of its canines Nov. 30 during a search of the former Jaguar car dealership building at 222 Hennepin Ave. S.  

Officers responded to a possible burglary in progress just after 7 a.m., according to a statement from police. Upon arrival, they found evidence that suggested a suspect might still be in the building and dispatched a canine unit to search the building. The search led Officer Eric Lukes and his German shepherd, Chase, to the roof of the three-story building, where the dog leapt over a barrier on the rooftop, fell and was badly injured.

The canine was taken to the University of Minnesota for medical treatment, where he died.

“The MPD family is saddened by this loss,” Police Chief Tim Dolan said in a prepared statement. “The service that the canines provide is invaluable to safeguarding the lives of our officers and the loss of a canine partner is very hard on the family of the officer who raise these animals as their own.”

Officer Lukes and Chase had been partners since Aug. 22, 2007, according to the MPD website. The animals in the Canine Unit live with their human partners, according to the MPD website.

Canine units were introduced to the MPD in 1970 and the first eight-officer canine unit began service in 1971. Currently, 17 canine teams assist Minneapolis police officers on regular patrols and respond to alarm calls, burglary calls, building and article searches and narcotics and bomb calls. All Canine Unit patrol teams complete 12 weeks of training and are certified by the United States Police Canine Association, according to the MPD website.

Police have apprehended three suspects in connection with the incident.

— Kathryn Holahan and Lana Walker contributed to this report.