A SAFE exit?

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February 10, 2003 // UPDATED 4:26 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon and Robyn Repya
Ellen Nigon and Robyn Repya

Police/civilian crime-prevention teams could be an early casualty of city budget cuts -- worrying Downtown neighbors and workers who've been helped

Luther Krueger is a Crime Prevention Specialist for the First (Downtown) Precinct. Krueger first learned about the city's Community Crime Prevention/SAFE program as a volunteer on crime prevention in his Lyndale neighborhood.

CCP/SAFE teams, a unit of the police department, pair one sworn officer and a civilian. The team focuses on preventing and reducing crime by building community relationships and disseminating crime statistics and information to groups of neighborhoods.

"I liked what SAFE was doing so much that I said, 'I want to work there,'" said Krueger, the civilian half of his team. "I saw it as effective then. I see it as effective now."

However, with city budget cuts looming, this "effective" program could soon be on the chopping block.

Some city officials claim the 66 SAFE officers and civilians perform duties that overlap with other programs. They say the functions could be incorporated into other city offices, separate from the police department, and accomplish the same goals.

At a January budget meeting discussing five-year spending-growth cuts, Mayor R.T. Rybak said he thought police services, which make up 33 percent of the city budget, could be maintained despite $12 million less in spending -- but SAFE would have to go.

"Dollars don't equal results. I think there is fat in the police budget, and I am going to go after that hard," Rybak said. "Number one, I don't think we need SAFE. We have SAFE over here [in the police department] doing community engagement, NRP [the city's Neighborhood Revitalization Program] doing community engagement. The real work needs to be done together."

The possibility of SAFE cuts has left neighborhood associations wondering to whom they'll turn for crime prevention assistance. The possibility has left Krueger wondering how the city could justify cutting an entire program that he says has a proven track record getting results.

What SAFE does

The Community Crime Prevention/ SAFE unit is the public face of the police department. SAFE teams routinely attend neighborhood meetings, fielding questions from neighbors and helping them improve neighborhood safety and livability. They also provide reams of information on crime and livability statistics to neighbors.

For Downtown neighborhood associations, Krueger and his partner, Officer Craig Williams, are the faces of the Minneapolis Police Department.

"I think that having the CCP/SAFE unit as a partner in dealing with livability issues and crime issues in your neighborhood is extremely valuable," said Christie Rock, executive director of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. "They are the eyes and ears that are our first line of defense. They hear things that we don't, and they pass that information on to us so we're able to distribute it to the residents and business owners in the community."

According to John VanHeel, livability committee chair for Citizens for a Loring Park Community, Krueger and Craig have helped them on many issues, ranging from bus shelters to murder.

"They were able to meet with us and walk the site and give us advice on the [safest] location of additional bus shelters on Nicollet Avenue," VanHeel said.

When Loring Park resident Nick Valenty was murdered across from the park, the SAFE team gave neighbors information about the case and answered questions.

"The neighborhood has been able to communicate with the police that that's an important crime that we want to be solved," VanHeel said.

Beyond meeting face-to-face with neighbors, the SAFE team also e-mails crime information via a "virtual block club" and through targeted crime alerts.

According to Krueger, the rush of people signing up to join the SAFE team's e-mail list is a sign they have been effective.

"If our e-mail lists were not growing, then I'd think that'd be one indicator of whether or not people feel we're effective. The lists are growing, and rapidly," Krueger said. "E-mail alert recipients have not only more than doubled in two years, but SAFE's use of this effective communication tool ... has increased more than tenfold in the same period."

Krueger also said the virtual block club, through which the police and neighbors share information about livability issues and crimes, "has led to arrests of frequent offenders, bank robbers, and laptop computer thieves -- demonstrably reducing and preventing further crime."

Mused Krueger, "When I started with SAFE in 1995 we had a third more crime and we had a third fewer SAFE teams ... ." In the early 1980s, Deputy Police Chief Lucy Gerold was department director of community crime prevention when it was separate from the police department. Then, Gerold said, her group organized the community to work with police, mostly to reduce property crimes. However, in the mid-'80s, crack cocaine became a big problem, and the need for community involvement grew. In 1987, CCP/SAFE teams were organized; a sworn officer was paired with each community crime-prevention worker.

Gerold, who led the program until 1997, said the CCP/SAFE teams have built a bridge between the police and the community, translating to a demonstrated drop in crime rates since the '80s. "SAFE has a proven track record, and I think the world of them," she said.

City officials analyze SAFE

Despite the SAFE unit's effectiveness, however, many city officials claim the 66 SAFE officers and civilians perform duties that overlap with other programs. Officials such as Rybak say the functions could be incorporated into other city offices, separate from the police department, and accomplish the same goals.

Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) was a SAFE Civilian Crime Prevention specialist for the East Calhoun, East Harriet, Lyndale and CARAG neighborhoods for eight years. Now, he is chair of the council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, which oversees policing issues. He said SAFE's community organizing components could be accomplished by melding it into other city offices.

"In a way [getting SAFE out of the police department] might level the playing field -- it would build a certain capacity in neighborhoods," Niziolek said. "Right now, some neighborhoods have safety committees, problem property committees. But if we bring them all together, with inspections, and the function landed in Neighborhood and Community Planning [in a new department that incorporates development, planning and possibly the Neighborhood Revitalization Program], then neighbors would become more involved."

Niziolek said taking civilian crime-prevention out of the police department will cost access to some police information, but the prevention will still happen. "I believe we can do it more efficiently," he said.

However, Deputy Chief Rick Schultz, Bureau Chief of Central Services, said he wants to strike a balance, rather than eliminating SAFE. "No one wants to cut SAFE. It's crime-prevention. How we define that service may change. No one wants to see SAFE disappear in its entirety," he said.

Schultz said changes such as reduced workload, staff reductions or SAFE reorganization may be a better way to go. "Maybe the Crime Prevention Specialists work with officers assigned to squads, rather than having an assigned patrol officer," he said.

Despite his calls for reform, Niziolek acknowledges SAFE's contribution.

"The functions that SAFE has provided are a main reason the city has moved forward," Niziolek said.

Taking a bite out of the police budget

By Scott Russell

Reducing spending $12 million by 2008 will be hard to do

Spending for the Minneapolis Police Department -- an estimated $100 million in 2003 -- accounts for nearly one out of every three dollars the city raises through property taxes.

The police department -- although a core city service -- will take a hit as the city prepares for lean money times. The police, like other departments, will continue to get budget increases, but not large enough to keep up with rising costs, particularly wages.

The city's Financial Work Group -- the mayor and three councilmembers -- estimates that at current service levels, the city must spend $55 million less by 2008 to balance the city's budget. The police department would have to spend $12 million less by 2008-- about 10 percent less than what it costs to provide today's police services.

In other words, the police department needs $129 million in 2008 to provide the same services it provides this year, according to city budget staff. Under the Work Group's plan -- approved by the full Council Jan. 31 -- it would get $117 million in 2008.

For comparison, the 5th Precinct's 2003 budget is roughly $7 million, or about 7 percent of the total police budget, city figures said. The 5th Precinct covers Southwest Minneapolis.

If the 5th Precinct budget grew by 5.5 percent annually -- the amount needed to maintain service levels -- it would reach $9 million by 2008. If the police department eliminated the entire 5th Precinct -- which it is not going to do -- it still wouldn't get the savings it needs to close the $12 million gap.

The police department is now working on its five-year business plan to set priorities and recommended service cuts, city staff said.

Solutions would likely involve staffing decisions, because staff costs account for 82 percent of the budget, said Marty Rafferty, the department's operations manager.

Some service demands are inflexible; for instance, 911 calls are not going to change dramatically, said Deputy Chief Rick Schultz, Bureau Chief of Central Services. But the department could evaluate priority responses, dealing with some types of calls at a later time.

CCP/SAFE

Some City Councilmembers have discussed reducing or eliminating the Community Crime Prevention/SAFE program -- shifting duties to other departments. The program pairs a sworn officer with a civilian crime-prevention specialist to work with neighborhoods or communities. The 1st Precinct (Downtown) now has two SAFE teams.

Cutting all of SAFE's civilians would preserve the department's officer corps while providing approximately one-eighth of the cuts needed by 2008.

In 2002, the city had a total of 34 civilian crime-prevention specialists and supervisors, said department spokesperson Cyndi Barrington. They had annual salaries of $1.6 million (benefit information was not immediately available).

The department is adding 12 traffic enforcement positions in 2003, Schultz said. Ticket revenue should cover the cost.

"Traffic is an overlooked area in our budget," he said. "It goes to 911. They don't always have time to focus on traffic."