Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Police & Budgeting: Protecting Public Safety While Protecting the Public Pocketbook

Public safety is a major primary function of local government.  Keeping residents and visitors safe while they go about their daily lives requires a police force that represents and understands the populations it serves.  Unfortunately, police departments of all sizes come with a hefty price tag and are a major line item for city budgets.  

According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, local police department operating budgets totaled $55.4 million in 2007, across 12,575 local jurisdictions in the U.S.  The average tax cost per resident is $260 annually—a number that shoots as high as $385 per resident in cities with over one million residents.

Within the state of Minnesota, there are 450 distinct law enforcement agencies, ranging from state agencies such as the State Patrol to tribal police to county sheriff’s offices and local police departments.

Minneapolis is the most populous city in the state (387,753 residents in 2011, according to the US Census Bureau) and serves as the economic engine for the region.  The city’s annual expenditure budget totaled $1.22 billion in 2012, with the majority of its $1.17 billion in revenues (77%) from four main sources: local property taxes, sales taxes, service fees and a general grant from the state called Local Government Aid.

The Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) total budget in 2012 was $135.4 million, with salaries and benefits account for the majority of the budget--$105.3 million, or 78%.  At the time of budget preparation (fall of 2011), the department projected to have 967.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, both sworn and civilian.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the MPD’s budget exceeds the BJS 2007 average of $93 million for departments serving between 250,000-499,999 residents and also exceeds the per-employee average cost by 15%.

This may be for several reasons, including the fact that Minneapolis is a strong pro-organized labor city and the vast majority of the MPD’s employees have union representation.  Research from the BJS states that jurisdictions that are unionized start officers at a salary that is $10,900 higher than those departments that do not have organized labor.  The MPD’s union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis (“Federation”), is a strong union that has traditionally been able to negotiate competitive wages and benefits, although MPD officers are far from the highest paid in the state.  In 2008, the Federation successfully negotiated wage increases to bring officer salaries into the top third of the highest paid departments among metro-area suburbs with 25,000+ residents and the city of St. Paul.

The table below compares similarly-sized jurisdictions and similarly-populated cities:

POPULATION (2011 estimate)
2012 POLICE BUDGET (in millions)
St. Paul
Madison, WI
Cleveland, OH
Tulsa, OK

There are multiple factors that may influence the size of the police department and its budget, such as the amount of crime, other jurisdictions in the area (such as the University of Wisconsin Police Department that operates in Madison) and political and community circumstances.  Ensuring public safety is essential, but also highly political--and highly scrutinized.  For these reasons, the budgeting process for a police department is particularly difficult.


1.  Consolidate resources.  In today’s tight fiscal circumstance, government cannot afford to waste money by duplicating resources and services that are available through other agencies.  Contracting or partnering with other jurisdictions for ancillary services such as police dispatch, crime labs, SWAT teams, K-9 dogs, and other specialized units could generate significant cost savings for a police department.  

2.  Utilize Volunteers.  While it is not uncommon for many police departments to have a police reserve unit comprised of unpaid volunteers, how departments utilize those services varies greatly.  In Minneapolis, reserve officers are greatly underused--they are typically called to action for major special events such as parades and races.  By contrast, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has approximately 400 active volunteers that assist with water patrol, traffic control, and non-enforcement activity such as aiding officers on vehicle tows.  Using volunteers in this manner saves the sheriff’s office money and frees up deputies to conduct other enforcement activities.  In Minneapolis, reservists could be activated for traffic control for sporting events such as Twins baseball games, assisting on DWI’s by waiting for tow trucks while officers process the arrestee, and helping with crowd control at special events--tasks currently done by paid officers at considerable expense to the department.

3.  Build partnerships with private and non-profit agencies.  The Minneapolis Police Department has experienced good results in the last five to ten years by increasing the number of partnerships with outside organizations.  An example of this success is the Minneapolis Safe Zone Collaborative.  Spearheaded by the police department, the Safe Zone Collaborative is a consortium of public and private organizations whose mission is to increase safety in downtown Minneapolis.  The Collaborative shares security information about safety issues and offenders, has a radio system for communicating in real-time, and utilizes Safe Zone cameras to monitor activity.  The Safe Zone Collaborative has buy-in from the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, who assists with legal measures and prosecution.  As a result of this work, robbery decreased in the first year of the program by 20 percent within the Safe Zone boundary area.

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