Lowry Hills getting more police patrols thanks to private funding of public workers

Council members approve controversial program, instruct staff to give a detailed report by end of March


Lowry Hills will be getting more police patrols next year thanks to a nonprofit that will pay the city $112 an hour. Some are questioning this buyback program while there are staffing shortages.
On Dec. 8, the Minneapolis city council voted to approve renewing a contract with the Minneapolis Safety Initiative (MSI) for $268,800, to pay for added police patrols in the Lowry Hill neighborhood next year.
According to the staff report, the city will be compensated at $112 per hour per officer to “increase police visibilities in the neighborhood where safety perception has indicated a need for extra police presence.” MSI and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) will agree upon the number of hours on a month by month basis with “no guarantee that hours requested will be filled.”
Approval of the contract passed on a 9 to 3 to 1 vote, with Ward 1 Council Member Elliot Payne abstaining and Council Members Aisha Chughtai, Jason Chavez and Robin Wonsley voting against it.
At the same meeting, the council also passed a motion by Payne calling for a more detailed report about the program to be provided to the council by the end of March 2023 with possible recommendations for policy changes.
In a presentation to the city council earlier this year, the police department reported that the buyback program is offered to officers who want to work beyond the regular and overtime operations of the department. The work is funded by an entity outside the department, but is paid through the MPD payroll.
Funding usually comes from grants, stadiums and other venues, organizations, neighborhoods, and other departments of the city. There were 9,691 buyback hours funded this way in 2021. Geographically-based entities who have contracted for buyback patrols over the past 10 years include Marcy Holmes, St. Anthony West, the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, the Downtown Improvement District, and the Uptown Special Service District.
According to MPD, this allows police to target crime hotspots, provides extra patrols in areas that want them, and helps provide security for large events and city projects.
When a similar contract (of $210,000) between MSI and MPD was approved last January, concerns were raised about potential impacts to patrol staffing shortages and unfair advantages going to wealthier areas of the city.
“I have concerns that richer neighborhoods can have access to police resources when a lot of our neighborhoods are struggling with safety,” said Ward 9 Council Member Chavez before the vote last January. “So, it’s an equity issue for me.”
At the same meeting, Ward 10’s Chughtai raised concerns about the larger concept of what she called the “privatization of public goods.” She said, “The result is always worse for the people who are most marginalized.”
Lowry Hill is widely recognized as among the top 10 wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Homesnacks.com, for example, puts it at the 8th richest of 84 Minneapolis neighborhoods in their 2022 ranking, with a median household income of over $107,000.
The funding for the Lowry Hill program appears to rely mostly on individual contributions that are being collected through a website operated by MSI. On their website no individuals are named as contacts but Wedgelive reported last January that, “Minneapolis Safety Initiative is a nonprofit that registered on 12/24/2021 by Cam Winton, or someone using his home address. Relatedly, Cam Winton was listed on the Jan. 4 agenda of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association (LHNA) to discuss public safety.”
When asked about the buyback program, a LHNA spokesperson was clear that it is not their program. “Please contact Minneapolis Safety Initiative for further information,” a spokesperson wrote. “The Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association shared Minneapolis Safety Initiative information with residents. LHNA is a neutral party, not for or against this initiative; we want residents to be informed.”
According to the association’s minutes, at LHNA’s September meeting, questions for 5th Precinct Inspector Kathy Blackwell “included whether the off-duty Minneapolis Police Officer hired by the neighborhood has been effective. Inspector Blackwell stated the officer’s presence is correlated with below average crime trends in Lowry Hill compared to the rest of the city and reduced police response times.”
The MSI website says, “Our goal is to increase safety for all residents and visitors.” It calls the program a temporary measure to address the current crime wave while MPD continues to rebuild to full staffing levels. “The program will continue as long as there is a need for additional patrols and support from neighbors to deploy them. ... To determine the appropriate program length, we will evaluate data and consult with program participants within six months of program start.” No evaluation, however, was available on the website, and there has been no response from email inquiries to MSI for comments for this story.
Without measurable results articulated, it is hard to determine if the program has been successful so far, after nearly a year of implementation. It is also unclear when and where the patrols have been working and to what ends.
Looking at crime data alone, it appears that the program has had little impact. The year-to-date statistics of reported crimes maintained by the city reveal increases in most types of crime. Assaults have gone up, at 32 compared to 14 at this time last year, and the three-year average of 15. Burglaries/break-ins are also up to 29 from 22 last year, but slightly below the three-year average of 31. The three crimes, of the 14 tracked on the department’s dashboard, that have gone down are robberies – from 24 last year at this time to 23 this year, car jackings (a subset of robberies) are down to 7 from 9; and shots fired calls, which are down to 32 from 36.
While the number of crimes has increased in Lowry Hill since 2018 and 2019, there are many other neighborhoods in the city, including in southwest, that have more crime than Lowry Hill. Whittier, for example, had 408 assaults, 108 burglaries and 119 robberies so far this year. Lowry Hill East has had 175 assaults, 71 burglaries and 91 robberies.
Some residents from higher crime areas are concerned that with a reduced number of officers from past years, and the limit on how many hours officers can work each week, buyback programs could mean less patrol officers in areas or at times when they may be most needed, as occurred last summer on July 4 downtown.
One Lowry Hill East resident, Charlie Rybak, has been looking into buyback programs and written about them for Southwest Voices. When asked about the new buyback program for the Lowry Hill neighborhood area he said, “If we are in the environment when lots of well-meaning people think we need more police, I think it’s very important we use them where they are most needed.”
Rybak and others are hopeful that the attention this issue has gotten at the council and the latest staff direction, as well as the upcoming labor contract negotiations with the police federation and the potential consent decrees with state or federal agencies, will make this a good time to rethink the buyback policy.
After voting for Payne’s directive that was approved unanimously on Dec. 8, but before voting for the contract, Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents all of Lowry Hill expressed her support of an improved policy. “I obviously support this today and ask for your vote, but I, for many years, have been raising the issue of overtime and who does the allocation and what is our level of responsibility,” Goodman said. “I do think it is time to look at this.”
Based on the directive, citizens should be learning more about the use of the program by the end of March next year. City staff have been instructed to report on the requirements for qualifying entities to participate in the program, the staffing capacities, the objectives of the added officers, performance measures, and an equity analysis that includes an analysis of how the hours of service that have been delivered over the previous five years by precinct and neighborhood.


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