by Marvin PIRILA
Floodwood residents often wonder why the city needs three cops on duty each week. These policemen are David DeNoyer, Vernon VanGuilder, and Brandon Olson. Officer Ryan Lunda is also used, but strictly on a fill-in basis when an officer takes time off. Lunda worked 84 hours in all of 2013 and has put in 120 hours in 2014 to cover for officers taking time off for medical/family, military and vacation leave.
The final budget figures for 2013, ending December 31, show that while General Property Taxes raised $252,470, the costs of the police department were $253,336.99.
Police Department Costs [all 2013 figures]:
Capital Outlay: $29,834 (New Squad)
Depreciation: $14,710 (Squad car replacement)
Listed separately is the police DARE program for $212.18, Drug Task Force for $1,445, and Police COPS for $55,436.70. If added to the costs of the police department, the total is $310,430.87. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program is a federal plan to put police officers on the street and was started when Minneapolis and other cities had much higher crime rates than they do today.
Aid & Grants
It would be unfair to list the costs without including the aid, grants, and donations given to the police department. These include:
Police State Aid: $15,844.89
- Police PERA State Aid: $ 490.00
- Police Special State Grants*: $ 7,988.34
- County DARE Aid: $ 553.17
- Local Grants/Donations: $ 6,175.00
- Federal Grant & Aid: $38,953.75 [Community Oriented Policing Services]
- Total aid for police: $70,004.26 [Accounts for 22.66% of the total cost]
- Fines and forfeits enforced by police in 2013 was $10,353. This money is used to purchase squads.
- The net cost is $230,073.61[$310,430.87 - ($70,004.26 + $10,353)].
Floodwood can make a case for and against the expense incurred for police services. The benefits include:
- Deterring crime by the presence of police
- Quick response to emergencies. The City said "the typical response time [of sheriff] is 30 to 45 minutes."
- Enforcement of ordinances such as blight and animal control
- Preventative programs such as DARE and gun safety
- Predatory Sex Offender Registration
- Hand Gun Permits/Permit to Carry
- Fingerprinting Services
- Prosecution Services
- Community Event Special Services
- Business Crime Prevention/Investigation
- Check Diversion Program
- Floodwood Police Department serves the surrounding area townships when the sheriff is unable to. "We do this because it’s the right thing to do and we have a mutual aid agreement with St. Louis County." [City]
The question posed by the Forum was why neighboring cities/townships were not being asked or required to pay for the services the city was providing. Thus far, the city has provided the services without payment. The taxpayers of the City of Floodwood should not bear the burden for services provided to other areas.
A Joint Powers agreement could be arranged to cover shared services. The League of Minnesota Cities Survey for 2003 found that 265 cities (38% of those in the greater Minnesota area) had entered into agreements with neighboring communities. It would benefit both communities through lower operating costs and require less tax money to fund.
The downside of having a police department includes:
- Higher property taxes, particularly for businesses taxed at higher rates
- Deters some outside visitors who feel over policed
The Choices Left to Taxpayers & the Council
Pursuant to Minn. Stat. 436.05, Subdivision 1, "Any...statutory city, town or the sheriff of any county may [not mandatory] contract for the furnishing of police service to any other home rule charter or statutory city or town, through the use of personnel and equipment subject to the authority of the contracting unit. Any such contract shall be approved by a majority of the members of the governing body of any contracting home rule charter or statutory city, the board of supervisors of any contracting town and the board of commissioners of any contracting county." Emphasis added.
"Statutory cities are authorized by state law to provide for the good order of the city, but there is no statutory requirement that cities have a police department or contract for law enforcement services. [Emphasis Added] How a city provides law enforcement is a policy decision for the city council to make based upon available resources. The cost of contract law enforcement varies depending upon the level of service that will be provided. The law enforcement entity would have to determine how much it would cost to provide the service." Response by James J. Monge III, Attorney for the League of Minnesota Cities to inquiry by the Floodwood Forum.
Simply summarized, the city council of Floodwood elected long ago to have a taxpayer funded police department. The city chooses to have three full-time police officers to maintain order. The choice to have a police department is Floodwood's and theirs alone. If they want one officer or ten, or even a police department at all, is their choice.
What Should the City Do?
The Forum asked about reducing the number of police officers?" City: "As to reducing the size of the force, a reduction in the number of officers would mean a reduction of hours/shifts covered. How does a community begin to decide where to cut? Who will be left without service when they need it? These are questions for the community. Most residents do not need a police officer on a daily basis but would they be happy if, when in need, the response is 'We can’t help you. There is no one on-duty.'""
[Forum] "How does Floodwood justify so many police for its size when other cities of equivalent size have far less or none?" City: "Public safety and maintaining a lawful community is a priority of this administration and city council. The same types of crimes that happen in large communities - sex offenses, domestic assaults, drug use/dealing, traffic accidents and fatalities, child abuse, assaults, theft, burglaries, etc. - happen in small communities."
The net cost for police services for Floodwood in 2013 was $230,074, or roughly $76,691 per officer. A reduction of just one officer, along with some mutual agreements for services, would significantly reduce costs. Like any cut though, it comes with some downside. The community ultimately controls what level of police protection it desires as well as what it can afford. Like most decisions, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. The answer generally lies in the middle.