As a result of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's projected cuts in local government aid (LGA), the Minneapolis City Council approved Mayor R.T. Rybak's amended 2003 budget March 13 that cuts the police budget by 7 percent within the month, costing the 1,100-employee department approximately 200 jobs.
The council also voted to save at least half of the Community Crime Prevention/SAFE program, which pairs a civilian and a sworn officer to prevent neighborhood crimes. SAFE units act as liaisons between the community and the police department. Currently, there are 25 two-man teams stationed around the city, comprised of one uniformed police officer and one crime prevention specialist (CPS), who is a civilian. Downtown currently has two SAFE teams.
The total police reduction is $7 million. At $98.9 million, the police budget makes up 38.1 percent of the city's general fund and is its most expensive item. The price tag for cops is more than twice the fire department budget or the public works budget.
While regretting the risk to public safety, Rybak and councilmembers said that Pawlenty's $21 million LGA cut to Minneapolis demands drastic action.
Councilmembers arrived intending to ratify Rybak's proposed 8 percent police cut. However, an 11th hour deal by Councilmembers found an additional $1 million to put back in the police coffers by cutting monies from the City Council, the City Clerk, City Coordinator, Elections and the Mayor's office.
Over $7 million of the cop cuts will come from lay-offs. Of the departments' 1,100 employees, 800 are sworn officers and 300 are civilians. Since the city budgets about $75,000 per police personnel per year for salary and benefits, as many as 200 jobs may be lost.
How many sworn personnel versus civilians will be get pink slips will be decided by Chief Robert Olson. His specific recommendations will be presented to the City Council on Friday, March 28.
Said Rybak, "Once the Chief presents his plan the cuts will come as soon as possible. The faster the cuts are made the more jobs we can maintain long-term."
The mayor acknowledged public safety would be compromised. "With this much money being cut we are not going to be able to provide the same level of service," he said. "There is no question that when you spend less money on public safety you are less safe, but that doesn't mean that Minneapolis will become unsafe."
City Finance Officer Patrick Born said Minneapolis had to make cuts immediately, even though Pawlenty's LGA cuts have not been approved by the legislature, because the city is in the middle of its fiscal year.
"We hope that the cuts will not be any deeper than what the Governor has already proposed, but we must be prepared for the worst," said Born. "If it turns out that the legislature reinstates some of that money, we can go back and reinstate some of these cuts. But for right now we are going on the assumption that everything Pawlenty says he is going to cut, is going to get cut."
The legislature is expected to decide LGA cuts by the end of its session in May, though deadlock would push a decision to a special session.
SAFE cut, not eliminated
The council approved an amendment by Councilmember Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) that no more than 50 per cent of the SAFE budget would be cut.
SAFE confronts neighborhood problems by organizing residents, businesses, institutions, and churches into working groups to put crime-prevention projects into effect. It also educates those groups on how to utilize police resources to better address their needs.
Currently, there are two Downtown SAFE teams, separated by 3rd Avenue.
CPS Luther Kreuger and Greg Williams work the west side of 3rd Avenue, while CPS Tim Hammett and Gary Duren are on the east side.
To maintain officers' response time to 911 calls, some have suggested putting SAFE cops back on the street. But specific proposals on how budget cuts will effect SAFE units are still unknown, department officials say.
Rybak said he supported a job-saving idea from the police union that would lay off civilians patrolling the city's Water Works and have cops do it instead. That would save 12 sworn officers from the unemployment line.
"I think the vote today was an obvious sign that the City Council has put public safety as priority," said Sergeant John Delmonico, head of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation. "So far I'm pleased with the way the process has worked, but our work is not done. One lay-off of a police officer is too much."
Since the legislature adopts a biennium budget the city will know in advance how much LGA money will be available for next year, allowing City leaders time to prepare for future adjustments.
"I am well aware that I am probably going to be cutting budgets for my entire term," said Rybak. "There is an opportunity to reform here, but nobody should be of the assumption that this has some sort of magical upside. This is flat-out bad news and we are going to do the best we can."