Police chief talks of expanded Downtown nuisance-crime patrols and a bigger role for private security guards
Minneapolis Police Chief Bill McManus says the city is safe - but it also needs 150 more sworn officers, or a 20 percent increase.
With 150 more officers, McManus said he could add 20 officers at each of the city's five precincts to lower 911 response times. That would leave the other 50 new officers for special gang or narcotics units or other special patrols - including a dozen officers Downtown dealing with panhandling and other nuisance crimes six days a week from 10 a.m. to 2-3 a.m.
The 150-officer increase "would be a start for me, without having to name a specific number," McManus said.
It is, however, a Catch-22. Adding 150 new officers at $75,000 each for salary and benefits would cost about $11 million. Why would the City Council spend millions of dollars if the city were safe already?
"I think there are various levels of safety, various levels of comfort," McManus said. There are problem properties "where we respond hundreds of times a year. Instead of going to the root cause of that problem, we just keep running back and forth."
Having more officers would let the Department prevent crime, rather than react to it, he said. To beef up Downtown security without spending more money, he proposes having private security guards patrol up to a block away from their buildings, instead of the current practice of ending their jurisdiction at the door.
McManus sat down in February with Skyway News to discuss police staffing. He had just finished a news conference announcing a $10,000 reward to help find the killers of Pa Houa Yang, a 13-year-old girl murdered on the Near North side.
He and city leaders face increasing pressure to fund more cops because of the increase in violent crimes such as Yang's murder. Murder rape, robbery and aggravated assault increased between 4 and 6 percent from 2003 to 2004.
The city police force peaked with 938 sworn officers in 1997, built up by the so-called "Clinton cops" funded by the federal government. Minneapolis now has 788 sworn officers, a drop of 150. The response times for top-priority 911 calls has increased 42 seconds between 2000 and 2004 and now averages 8 minutes, according to police statistics.
Yet the recent crime data only tells part of the story. Violent crime in 2004 still is approximately 30 percent below 1997 levels, the peak staffing year, and at least 39 percent below 1994, the peak violent crime year in the 1990s, according to city data.
Other social and demographic factors affect crime, independent of police force size. Lt. Gregory Reinhardt, head of the city's crime-tracking CODEFOR unit, said one crime predictor is the number of young men ages 13 to 22, and that number has trended downward.
So how many officers do the city need to be safe and still fiscally prudent?
"There is no magic formula," McManus said. "If you were to walk into some police precinct, everyone would have an authorized number. If you asked someone 'How did you come up with that number?' no one would be able to tell you. This is from my experience back in [Washington] D.C. You just know you need this number - because that's what it's always been."
McManus said the Department makes 911 response a top priority. When a street cop retires or leaves for another reason, the Department automatically replaces that person from the gang or another support unit.
"Once those units lose enough capacity, you may as well not even have them anymore," he said. "They are abolished, in order to keep up the street strength."
When that happens, gang, drug and prostitution activity lose a vital check. "Who is left to deal with it but the street officers?" McManus said. "They get tied up not only handling runs, but dealing in a very superficial level with those kinds of problems. We have already reached that point."
The Minneapolis Police Officers Federation ran radio ads in December to put pressure on the city to hire back 150 cops. City Council Ways and Means Chair Barb Johnson (4th Ward) says the city needs to add back 100 cops in two years "to get us back on our feet. We are reeling right now with the lack of personnel."
McManus said he is "not sounding the alarm." He just wanted to point out that getting the number of officers back where it was in 1997 "gives the Police Department the ability to be as proactive as we would like. We can't work smart by just running back and forth from call to call to call."
Further, officers present a better image if they are not harried.
"You can't build a very good rapport with [an officer] who is so occupied from finishing the last call and getting to the next one so they can clear the board," he said. "That officer doesn't have time to be friendly - doesn't have time to pas a couple of minutes of the day and be cordial with an individual. That is what people are looking for. They are looking for a user-friendly Police Department."
Neighborhood and business groups should have a police official attend their meetings to hear their concerns and help strategize, McManus said.
The prospects look bleak. The city's five-year budget assumes a hefty 8 percent overall property tax increase which would still leave the Police Department $10.9 million behind inflation by 2010, translating into a loss of another 139 officers.
Expanding private security?
McManus said he is talking to the Downtown Council, private security agencies and property managers that hire off-duty officers about an expanded role as one way to improve Downtown safety.
Currently, a private security guard's jurisdiction ends at the door. McManus said expanding the jurisdiction to include up to a block in either direction could improve coordination with police and add a visible security presence.
That way, when people see a security guard on the street, they will associate him or her with the police, and it would keep them "a little bit honest," he said.
The Police Department also is working to create a common radio channel with private security to improve communication.
McManus would like to improve communications, so private security would have a direct link with a beat officer.
If he could find the money, he would like to have a 10-15-officer Downtown task force to deal with panhandling, loitering and nuisance crimes, with six-day-a-week coverage from 10 a.m. to 2-3 a.m.
In the near-term, McManus said the Department is moving ahead with the five-year budget - "holding our breath" to see if the city can get state approval for a local option sales tax to boost public safety funding.