Mpls. budget cuts might strain U police

Proposed cuts to Minneapolis police could eliminate officers and might cause University police to respond to more off-campus crimes.

But University officers are limited to how many calls they can respond to, said Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department.

According to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposed budget, the Minneapolis Police Department would cut 33 positions next year.

Federal and state budget cuts that forced the Minneapolis Police Department to reduce its force by 100 police officers this year might get further cuts in 2005.

Johnson said his department has reached the limit of how much it can respond to Minneapolis calls.

Although the University police have always answered calls in Minneapolis, Johnson said, it seems that lately they are doing so more often.

“There are situations now where we’ve been taking calls because there’s no one (else) to send,” he said.

University police have always helped Minneapolis police, but they have to make sure they cover the University, Johnson said.

“We can’t ignore our primary responsibility, the University of Minnesota,” he said. “If we spend a night chasing (Minneapolis Police) calls, we aren’t getting our job done.”

The mayor’s proposal still needs approval, but Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, 3rd Ward, said he doesn’t think there’s much the city can do to help the situation.

“We’re at a point where we’ve gotten all the money we’re going to get, and we’re still going to have to cut,” Samuels said.

Minneapolis police spokesman Ron Reier said the cuts could seriously affect the department.

“We ended up losing almost the equivalent of the Bloomington, (Minn.,) Police Department,” he said.

Reier said that because the same number of officers will be needed for reactive police work, such as responding to 911 calls, there will be fewer police officers available for work such as crime prevention and school programs.

One such program is the Minneapolis police community outreach program SAFE Crime Prevention Specialists, Reier said.

“Two years ago, there were 27 officers and 27 civilians in SAFE,” Reier said. “Then it was cut to 13 and 13. Now, at the beginning of next summer, the 13 officers will go back on the street, and we’ll only have the 13 civilians.”

Eric Takeshita, senior aide and project coordinator for the mayor’s office, said the city cut the jobs because the Bush administration cut funding for the Community Oriented Public Safety program and the state cut back on financial aid to cities.

The community public safety program used federal money to help local police departments.

Johnson said the University department has always worked closely with the Minneapolis Police Department.

The University owns a large amount of property scattered throughout a wide area, Johnson said, and it’s all University police jurisdiction.

When officers travel back and forth though campus areas, they’re often moving through Minneapolis and are still considered on duty.

Samuels said he is worried about how the police cuts would affect his ward and the city.

“(My ward) is a vulnerable community,” he said. “We need more police than just about anywhere else.”

With the budget cuts, Samuels said, there might be fewer officers on the street to act as a deterrent.

While having fewer officers doesn’t cause more crime, Samuels said, increasing crime rates in Minneapolis would reflect badly on Minnesota as a whole.

“Shorting the city will eventually short the state,” Samuels said. “The reputation for our state is at stake.”

Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes feedback at [email protected]