911'S A Joke In Your Town?

It was a good day for public urinators and doobie smokers. For the rest of the citizenry, last Wednesday's unveiling of Minneapolis Police Chief William McManus's proposed five-year budget plan likely sounded like grim news.

By now everybody knows the city is working its way out of a budget crisis. The MPD's money problems can be traced back 18 months, to when Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced that, instead of raising any taxes, he would cut funding to the Local Government Aid program to help balance the state's checkbook. In Minneapolis, LGA went primarily to the police and fire departments. The irony that Pawlenty offers lip service to public safety while radically reducing government spending is a notion that doesn't even draw bemused comments around City Hall anymore.

"The cuts will affect us," McManus told the City Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee. "But we will offer the best practices to offer the best services." He added that responding to 911 calls "remains our highest priority."

Even that will be tough. Last year, the MPD lost $3 million of its $91-million general fund from LGA cuts--but the long-term numbers are bleaker. Growth of the department's budget through 2008 is capped at $18 million, McManus explained, which is some $12.5 million less than will be needed for the MPD to operate at current levels.

In 2000, the number of total sworn personnel in the department was 917; currently that number is 762. In 2008, according the projected five-year plan, Minneapolis will have 641 sworn police officers on the payroll, staffing numbers not seen here since the early 1960s. Whether this very skinny blue line will be able to tackle so-called "quality of life" crimes--beery downtown micturators and craps rollers--stirred open City Council concern.

Earlier in the week, Sgt. John Delmonico, head of the Minneapolis police union, told the Star Tribune that he doesn't blame the chief, but rather Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council, who set the preliminary budget. "[McManus] gets his marching orders from third floor at City Hall," Delmonico said.

But it's clear that the city's purse strings are tied because of the hit to LGA. During the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation endorsed a candidate who, as a former prosecutor and House majority leader, had a reputation as a crime fighter. That candidate, Delmonico and the ever-shrinking membership might recall, was Tim Pawlenty.

 
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