The true cost of fighting crime in Minneapolis

When a memo circulated around City Hall last week indicating that the Minneapolis Police Department is on pace to be $5.6 million over budget for 2007, most hand-wringing was over the fact that the MPD will delay adding 20 recruits to the payroll until 2008 as a stopgap measure. But a more salient point was missed: How did the department run afoul of budget guidelines in the first place?

Several reasons, according to MPD Chief Tim Dolan and city finance officer Pat Born. "The department did run over budget in 2006," notes Born, adding that the police budget accounts for $120 million out of the city's $328-million general fund. "But in the recent past, there's been nothing like this."

For starters, the hiring of 20 new recruits in April added $800,000 to the cost overruns, but those worried about the delayed hiring of the next recruit class, fret not: The MPD is fully staffed now with 827 sworn officers. Second, the MPD has cut a few checks on gadgets lately, including the "gun location technology" called ShotSpotter and security cameras. "We spent $1 million on cameras on the north side," Dolan points out.

Then there is the matter of officer overtime, an annual struggle in the police budget. (This is separate from the $750,000 the city freed up earlier this year to increase overtime patrols downtown.) "We've already cut that to the bone," Dolan claims, saying the OT budget is $2.4 million. "Frankly, overtime is woefully under-budgeted." Also, traffic and police "fine revenues"—also known as "tickets"—are going to be about $1.3 million below initial forecasts.

Still, the one of the biggest drains on the MPD's coffers is also one of the oddest, something known as "jail fees." Those suspicious of bad government bureaucracies might want to sit down before reading further. It turns out that since the 1960s, Hennepin County has charged the MPD to book criminals into the county pokey, to the tune this year of about $169 per arrest, according to Born. In essence, the more the cops fight crime, the more it costs the department—this year some $1 million more than projected. "It's a deal we should probably get out from under," says Dolan, adding that Minneapolis is the only area municipality charged by the county, and that he can't think of any similar arrangement in any other comparable metro area.

"I keep pushing cops to make more arrests," Dolan concludes, "even though I know it's gonna cost."