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Minneapolis prepares for cuts, while neighborhoods worry about public safety
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Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson is getting pressure from the mayor and neighborhood groups not to cut too many officers from the force in response to the city's budget problems. (MPR file photo)
Minneapolis officials are clearing the way for upcoming staff layoffs. Employee reductions are in response to anticipated cuts in state aid that could trim the city's coffers by more than $40 million over the next two years. The council vote is expected to trigger quick action to lay off workers, even though many city leaders won't know the exact amount of state cuts until at least May.

Minneapolis, Minn. — City leaders say they've made a great deal of progress minimizing potential layoffs to the police department. In February, Police Chief Robert Olson drafted a memo estimating a police staff cut of more than 160 this year if the governor's cuts in state aid are realized. He said the resulting increase in crime would be "absolutely catastrophic." Mayor R.T. Rybak rejected that estimate. He credits the police union for offering creative proposals to avoid many job cuts.

"We've been in very aggressive conversations with police officials, with the people from the police union, our budget office -- been able to systematically cut away at the proposed layoffs in the police budget, and we're going to work hard on that day and night," Rybak said.

Minneapolis Police Federation President John Delmonico says the union has looked to dozens of other sources, including overtime pay, money for equipment, and the travel budget for savings to keep officers on the streets.

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Image North Minneapolis residents fight crime on their street

"We've cut the number drastically in the past few days. At one point they were looking at upwards of 150. And I would say today we're down to 50 or 60. So we're meeting with the chief and the city every day, doing everything we can to look everywhere to save money," Delmonico said.

Delmonico says those trims do not include an additional proposal to offer early retirement incentives. The union is checking to see how many officers would take advantage of such a deal.

The police cuts are part of plan Rybak presented to spread out a $20 million cut this year among 13 different departments. Because the police department makes up the single largest area of city spending, its proposed cut is the largest dollar figure, $8 million.

City officials are taking the budget steps in response to a proposal by Gov. Pawlenty to provide less than three-quarters of the state aid originally projected for cities. In Minneapolis that's about $44 million over two years. That represents a 20 percent cut in the money the city uses to pay salaries for employees like police officers, firefighters and road crews.

"The good news is we're moving in the right direction. The bad news is no matter how we slice it, there are going to have to be layoffs in police and fire," Rybak said.

The mayor's assurance notwithstanding, neighborhoods struggling with crime fear the loss of police officers, especially those assigned to community policing units. And some of those neighborhood groups have their own ideas on how the Minneapolis police department can save money.

The good news is we're moving in the right direction. The bad news is no matter how we slice it, there are going to have to be layoffs in police and fire.
- Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak

Mika Anderson-Coates is the kind of citizen police officials count on to help them in the fight against crime. A resident of the Seward neighborhood in south Minneapolis, Anderson-Coates helps organize citizen patrols -- she connects neighbors through a community newsletter and she has been a block club leader. Anderson-Coates says she and her neighbors have worked closely with the police department's Community Crime Prevention-Safe program (CCP-Safe).

"We have used CCP-Safe in a number of different ways over the years. We have dealt with some seriously violent crime in the neighborhood -- rape, murder. We've had prostitution, burgurlary, robberies, assaults. You name it, we've had it," Anderson-Coates said.

CCP teams consist of sworn officers and civilians who regularly meet with residents to keep them up to date on crime trends in their areas. Police Chief Robert Olson has not yet announced where he'll make budget cuts. But Anderson-Coates says she sent a letter to the chief and mayor asking them to spare the program. And she has offered some ideas where the chief could save some money.

"What we would recommend is that all officers with the rank of inspector or captain take a mandatory pay cut and freeze it, until the deficit is made up. All officers with the rank of lieutenant or sergeant will take a mandatory 5 percent cut in salary, where it will be frozen until the deficit is made up," Anderson-Coates said.

Anderson-Coates also recommends a 15 percent pay cut for the chief and deputy chiefs, as well as early retirements, four-day work weeks and job sharing, as ways to avoid officer layoffs.

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Image Dealing drugs on the street

Earlier this week, the executive board of the Corcoran neighborhood decided to send a letter to the city which also asked the chief and the mayor to spare the CCP-Safe program. And other groups around the city have been acting as well.

Nancy Beals is with the McKinley Neighborhood Association in north Minneapolis.

"If there's going to be a big reduction in the number of street police, and also a reduction of community policing, we're going to have tough summer," says Beals.

Beals says generally the neighborhood is a nice place to live, but there are some spots where low-level crime persists.

Beals says McKinley is one of nine neighborhoods -- six in north Minneapolis and three in south Minneapolis -- where 43 percent of the city's violent crimes occured in November. And she says these nine neighborhoods contain nearly half of the city's minority population.

"All of these neighborhoods have the same concerns. What's unfortunate is that the CCP-Safe team is the only tool we have for long-term crime prevention," Beals said.

Chief Olson and police union officials have said large personnel cuts will lead to increases in crime. However, others say it's too early to tell exactly what's going to happen. Police information officer Ron Reier says police budget reductions may mean slower responses, but police will be available.

"Presently we prioritize our calls. I don't anticipate, or haven't heard, that any of that will be changed. What it means is -- will we end up waiting sometimes, sometimes a little bit longer for some of the police services? That might be a possibility," Reier said.

City officials say the majority of calls they've received at city hall this week have been in opposition to police and fire officer layoffs. Mayor R.T. Rybak has said public safety is still the top priority for the city, and he says he will not accept any proposal from the chief that would jeopardize the safety of Minneapolis residents.

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