Olson makes police cuts, Downtown hit less

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April 21, 2003 // UPDATED 10:47 am - April 30, 2007
By: Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

Fewer investigations and crime-prevention teams -- but no less crowd control, and more traffic cops who pay for themselves writing tickets

The Minneapolis City Council voted April 1 to accept Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson's plan to eliminate 169 jobs from the force effective April 15. Olson reduced the 2003 police budget by $7.5 million in response to Governor Tim Pawlenty's proposed cuts to local government aid (LGA).

That number represents 15 percent of the department. The previously authorized force of 854 will fall to 752. Twenty-five sworn officers will be laid off; other reductions will come from retirements, unfilled vacancies, normal attrition and transfers to Convention Center and Water Works budgets.

Olson said that maintaining police Downtown will remain a priority and didn't think cuts would have a dramatic effect there.

Downtown contributes a third of the city's general fund tax base, and maintaining that cash cow is a priority of the department and city council.

"We have a thriving nightlife and hospitality industry which is doing very well right now," said Deputy Chief Greg Hestness. "Much of the mission of the 1st (Downtown) Precinct is visibility, crowd management and making the people feel comfortable here."

One of its biggest responsibilities is keeping people safe on the weekend when 25,000 people are leaving the bars late at night after having consumed alcohol. The precinct did not cut its mounted police force. As far as crowd control, the conventional wisdom within the department is that one horse is worth 10 cops.

"Police on horseback limits the number of confrontations that police get into," said Hestness. "People who are drunk may challenge a cop but few will challenge a horse unless they are really stupid."

However, SAFE crime-prevention teams that organize neighborhoods and businesses were cut extensively. Olson eliminated 11 of the city's 25 teams, which consist of a sworn officer and a civilian crime-prevention specialist. The boundaries of the remaining 14 teams will be expanded to shoulder the new workload. Downtown currently has two SAFE teams, but one may be eliminated.

Other cuts -- and one growth area

Despite across-the-board reductions, the police traffic-division staff will be increased from 12 to 24. The theory is that more traffic cops will write more tickets and pay for themselves.

The 24 cops patrolling city schools will be cut in half. The remaining dozen will be stationed in the city's seven high schools and five junior high schools. Nine sergeants were demoted. Other savings include a 10 percent cut in non-personnel items such as equipment and training and a concentrated effort to reduce $1.8 million in overtime the department rang up last year.

Olson said the good news was that none of the city's five precincts were eliminated.

Will the crime rate go up?

Hestness said department leaders will try to make sure the crime rate doesn't rise.

"Our priority is to get the most bang for the buck," said Hestness. "The bottom line is that we have to have adequate response to 911 calls and to true emergencies. But our biggest strategy remains prevention, and going after the root causes of crime."

That is the job of the Community Response Teams, officers not in squad cars who proactively interrupt criminal processes once they have been identified. Hestness said the reason serious crime is down 40 percent over the past four years is because of their work.

What will suffer are the response times for less serious calls, and the investigative unit which will not have as much support as it has in the past to investigate individual cases.

"There will be a lot of investigations that don't take place," said Hestness. "They'll be prioritized, and the ones that have a potential to be solved will be attended and the ones that are less likely to be solved will not. There will also be fewer secondary investigations."

Unfortunately, the worst may not be over. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed local-government-aid cuts to Minneapolis go from $21 million this year to $59 million in 2004. The city's proposed 2004 budget plan calls for $11.6 million in police cuts that may require 53 more layoffs.

"If the legislature imposes further reductions on us next year, it will force our department into becoming primarily a responsive organization," said Olson. "Cops will be slower to respond and we will not be able to sustain the significant crime reduction that we have made over the past five years."