To Protect and Serve--at Reasonable Hourly Rates

WHEN TWO MINNEAPOLIS cops attended Elliot Park's Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) meeting on February 20, the board members and residents present found themselves on the receiving end of a sales pitch. Officers Chad Martin and Dave Monjeau offered a plan that would put extra officers on a walking beat there at night--for $35 per hour per cop. The proposal raised the ire of some residents, and in the process reignited debate over the roles and responsibilities of police in community policing programs.

The so-called Downtown Command Center, created by Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson at the behest of business leaders, was designed to ease some of the work load that was falling to the city's beleaguered 4th Precinct and increase police presence in the business district and neighboring communities. This January, the program put an additional 28 officers and five supervisors on the street. Elliot Park, an annex of the Command Center, received its meager share: two beat cops who work 9-5 Monday through Friday.

According to Loren Niemi, Director of Elliot Park Neighborhood Association, putting officers on the day shift in his community is an ill-advised measure. "Frankly, I would rather have officers work the second shift, when crime occurs," he says. Niemi is incensed that his neighborhood, which contains a large concentration of rental property, should have to pay for adequate protection in the evening hours. "We pay a lot in property taxes each year," he says. He condemns the solicitation of NRP monies for what he calls "a wonderful source of overtime for police." Niemi also cites the Police Federation as "a substantial roadblock to community policing," and says the Federation is unwilling to have neighborhoods help set their own agendas. "They will aid communities by sharing criminal information, but they don't want input from residents," he says.

Inspector Ted Trahan, the head of the Command Center, says this is the first he's heard of either Niemi's complaints or the cops' proposal. He adds there is nothing unseemly about the officers' proposal. "The current restrictions on off-duty work follow the old rule: Officers are allowed to work part time with written approval from supervisors. If they [EP Neighborhood Association] are unhappy with what the cops turned in, they don't have to bite."

While the tactics in the EP buyback proposal are "unusual," says Don Vargas, director of the People of Phillips neighborhood association, the proposal is not. "As other sources of overtime cash have dried up, and neighborhoods have more money, they are suddenly more desirable [as sources of off-duty employment] than they used to be." Phillips's buyback program, which uses a mobile unit for block functions, is costing the neighborhood $77,000 for an 18-month trial run. But, says Vargas, "It's my understanding, and the neighborhood's, that at the end of the contract we will petition the 3rd Precinct to assume command of the mobile unit and administer the program themselves." He concedes the precinct may balk at subsuming the project into its regular duties.

According to Jennifer Billig, a staffer at NRP, a great number of neighborhoods want to buy hours, but "the cops have said they don't have enough staffing." And if an officer has to choose between walking neighborhood streets or bouncing at a bar, Billig says the NRP bid will lose. Currently, seven neighborhoods have some kind of contracts for additional policing: Cedar Isles Dean, Marcy Holmes, Hill Page Diamond Lake, St. Anthony West, Loring, Phillips, and Lyndale. Most of these are bike patrols, and carry a hefty price tag: Hourly rates are between $28.70 and $39.11 for each officer. The price reflects the pro-rated cost for a bike, maintenance, and wages and benefits.

 
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