Discount bookings

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June 30, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Robyn Repya
Robyn Repya

Complaining of high county prices, city police set up their own booking unit. They haven't saved money, but they have saved their jobs.

Officials of the Minneapolis Police Department grew tired of paying Hennepin County's ever-increasing booking charges -- now more than $250 per arrestee -- so they created their own booking unit Downtown.

The money the city reallocated saved the jobs of nine officers from ongoing budget cuts.

Booking is the pricey but mundane aftermath of an arrest. The suspect's personal information -- such as name and address -- is taken, as are mug shots and fingerprints. A court date is then issued for the alleged offense. Suspects can be jailed if the charges are serious enough, but only through the county's booking unit; the Minneapolis unit doesn't have the facilities.

The new city booking system, which started in May, is the brainchild of Chief Robert Olson. It has processed more than 180 people, allowing the city to pay itself over $45,000, money that otherwise would have gone to the county.

Although the money used for city booking isn't saved, it's kept in the Minneapolis Police Department, saving jobs. But while some in the department tout the new plan, others consider it a temporary fix that might do more harm than good.

The county system

Booking isn't cheap. Phil Weber, inspector of Financial Services for the Hennepin County Sheriff, said the fee the county charges the city has risen from $147.45 per arrestee in 2001 to $251.21 per person in 2003 -- a 70 percent hike in two years.

Minneapolis Police Lt. Scott Gerlicher, who drew up the city's booking-unit proposal, said the city paid $1.5 million to the county in 2002 for booking 692 people per month. Using the same arrestee count in 2003, he said the city would pay $2,085,294 -- a $500,000 one-year jump and more than 2 percent of the department's $95 million annual budget.

Weber said the county's rate is based on a formula it devised in 1968, which divided the cost of operations by the number of bookings per year. He said the county's costs went up partly because of its new Public Safety Facility across 4th Avenue South from City Hall.

Gerlicher said Olson believed he could save officers' jobs if the city could move one-third of its bookings away from the county.

That doesn't mean more officers on the street. Police spokesperson Officer Ron Reier said the city reallocated money sent to the county for the salaries of nine officers and one booking-unit supervisor, saving their jobs on the force.

The new city system

Instead of bringing alleged criminals to the county jail, Minneapolis officers can now bring arrestees to a small room on the first floor of City Hall, 350 S. 6th St.

Officers in the city's booking unit work noon-3 a.m. Monday-Saturday. Officers working in the unit (who requested anonymity) said their busiest times begin at 3 p.m. and usually drop off between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m.

Officers start by filling out an intake sheet for the arrestee, identifying the person and checking his or her information to make sure it matches up. One officer said sometimes the age that arrestees give won't match the date of birth given, so he knows they're lying and investigates further.

Once the intake is completed, the booking officers check the city system to see if the arrestee has prior arrests. Photos are then taken, and a file is started or the arrestee's records are updated. Fingerprints are then taken into record. Before discharging the suspect, officers issue him or her a citation to arrange a court date for their offense.

The smaller city system doesn't get cops who drop off arrestees back onto the street faster; Minneapolis Police Lt. Mike Sauro, who supervises the booking unit, said Minneapolis's system takes as long as the county's.

The county's reaction

Roseann Campagneli, the Hennepin County Sheriff's public information officer, said the city's new system will cost the county, but that can't be evaluated yet because the Minneapolis system is so new. Campagneli said they have booked fewer people throughout the last month, but that doesn't mean it's because of the city's new system.

She said the county raised the booking rates so much recently because it is trying to break even on operations.

Sauro said the county charged such exorbitant prices because they could. He predicts that after the county loses money as a result of city actions, they will lower their fees.

Sheriff's Insp. Weber said he wouldn't speculate on that.

Temporary fix affecting city crime rates

Sauro (who also supervises the sex-crimes unit) said city booking is a good temporary fix but adds that booking arrestees is not what he or the nine officers should be doing. He said they should instead be out on patrol, and it's been tough to keep their morale up because they're not on the street where they want to be.

Reier said that because of belt-tightening, many officers within the department have been shifted and duties consolidated so the city could maintain zero layoffs during its budget crisis.

He said reassigned officers typically had the lowest seniority.

Reier said that while no sworn officers were fired in the 2003 round of budget cuts, reassignments mean that there are approximately 125 to 140 fewer cops on the streets.

"It's a temporary fix for the 2003 budget," he said. "We're not going to get more money (in 2004); we're going to get less."

Reier said he didn't know if the police department will be able to avoid layoffs next year, when state cuts in aids to cities mean Minneapolis will have further cutting to do.

Sauro said the lack of cops on the street is evident in the crime statistics, noting that arrests this May were down 25 percent from May 2002, even though he believes there is not less crime.

He said criminals don't take punishment as seriously when they're just booked and let go. "Giving someone a citation instead of taking them to jail minimizes their crime," Sauro said.