Budget cuts have forced the Minneapolis Police Department to shed 73 cops since 2008, and another 30 of its civilian employees since 2010, but the proposed elimination of five neighborhood-focused crime workers drew the most comment at this week’s police budget hearing.
The 2012 budget proposed by Mayor R.T. Rybak eliminates the five crime prevention specialists as part of the general fund cuts that allowed him to propose no property tax hike. Federal funding for 12 other such workers expires in mid-2012, and their future depends on how Rybak recommends that the next round of federal community development dollars be used.
Mayor R.T. Rybak and Police Chief Tim Dolan

Mayor R.T. Rybak and Police Chief Tim Dolan

But City Council members focused on the five city-funded positions because the 17 specialists are often on the front lines of dealing with livability crimes that aren’t the top priority for uniformed cops. The crime prevention specialists foster block clubs, offer safety information, give data on livability crimes, and work with residents on addressing problematic properties. They’re also considered an important public service in areas of town where violent crime is rare, council members say.
The hearing by the City Council’s money committee produced no immediate suggestions for how the council might shift money to ward off cutting the five positions. But finding that money is likely to be one of the panel’s priorities when it marks up the mayor’s budget in December.
The mayor’s $134.5 million police budget (down 1.3 percent) would shrink the ranks of cops by another 10 officers to a budgeted 843 for 2012. That’s down from a peak of 916 in 2008. How low will it go? That depends on future budgets, but Chief Tim Dolan said slipping well below 800 cops wouldn’t be good for the city. He points to higher crime back when the number of cops fell below 800 officers in 2004-2005.
The good news for cops is that Dolan expects to make his 2012 budget numbers without layoffs. The department is ahead of schedule on shedding the 29 cops required under his 2011 budget. Attrition is ahead of schedule and he’s expecting another 15 cops to leave next year. “We’re an aging department,” he said. Eight cops remain laid off from a previous budget cut.
Dolan is managing a more tightly budgeted department these days. The cost of police cars and other vehicles is running $600,000 below budget. Overtime hours worked is running 22 percent below 2010, despite the May 22 tornado.
Critics often criticize Rybak for cutting police and say that he should cut in other areas. But with the city’s tax-supported general fund supplying 95 percent of police spending, it’s hard to hold the lid on property taxes and absorb expense increases, without police budget cuts.