Lowry Hill residents pass the hat to pay for extra police patrols

By: - February 1, 2022 4:01 pm

A Minneapolis police squad car in May 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

An upscale Minneapolis neighborhood will pay the city up to $210,000 to do additional police patrols, on the heels of one of the most violent years in the city’s history.

Last week, the Minneapolis City Council voted 12-1 to approve extra patrols for the Lowry Hill, an affluent neighborhood west of downtown. 

A few council members voiced concerns about wealthier neighborhoods being able to buy better police coverage, but just one — Robin Wonsley Worlobah — voted against the contract.

It’s part of a so-called “buyback” program in which neighborhoods or organizations can pay for extra patrols. Minneapolis Police spokesman Garrett Parten said the program has been around for more than two decades, and has been used by everyone from the Timberwolves to neighborhood associations to beef up policing, at a current rate of $107 per hour per officer. Sometimes the extra policing is for events, such as marathons, but others are longer-term patrols.

All buyback positions are voluntary and filled by officers who are not scheduled elsewhere, and entities that request extra patrols are only charged the actual costs of the shifts that are filled.

“MPD has partnered with neighborhood organizations, business groups, and other stakeholders for many years to meet the needs for focused patrols, presence, and engagement as an addition to on-duty resources,” Parten said.

In Lowry Hill, volunteers created a nonprofit called the Minneapolis Safety Initiative to accept donations for the patrols, with residents urged to donate $220 per month for at least six months. 

The group says on its website the extra policing is a “temporary measure to address the current crime wave while MPD continues to rebuild to full staffing levels.” 

On Jan. 25, a City Council subcommittee briefly talked about the contract with Lowry Hill. Council Member Elliott Payne expressed concern about adding more work for a department suffering a staffing shortage, “burnout,” and large numbers of officers seeking workers’ compensation and duty disability retirements. 

But the program is voluntary for officers, he said, so the department wouldn’t be required to assign the patrols. 

“Are we stretching the staff that we do have too thin with these additional contracts?” he said.

Two days later, Payne asked that the contract be discussed again during a meeting of the full council. He said he decided after “a lot of struggle” to vote for the contract — which he said was already “in motion” — after being assured by police that precinct inspectors still control the allocation of resources. 

But he said he has philosophical concerns about using private dollars to direct police resources to certain neighborhoods and would like to take a deeper look at the program before another buyback contract comes along.

“Do we have a similar program for filling potholes? Do we have a similar program for plowing streets? Could neighborhood associations pool resources to be first … in the city to get plowed?” Payne asked. “I think that if we were to apply this same approach to other ways that we deliver the core services of local government, it starts to fall apart for me.” 

Wonsley Worlobah, the lone “no” vote, said there was a lack of clarity about how the program fits into citywide crime reduction and how decisions are made around it.

Council Member Jason Chavez also said he has concerns about the program during a staffing shortage and questioned how richer neighborhoods can get police resources when a lot of other neighborhoods are struggling with crime. 

Council Member Aisha Chughtai said whenever public services are privatized — from education to housing — the result is always worse for the most marginalized people, and she’d like to see deeper discussion of the program.

But she voted “yes” on the contract anyway. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.