Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What happens when public safety is the only service left on the chopping block?
The City of Oakland, CA is about to find out. According to a local television station there, the city's police chief there has released a list of "situations" that officers will no longer be able to immediately respond to due to department layoffs driven by budget cuts. The city and the police union have until 5 p.m. CDT today to strike a contract deal that would minimize layoffs needed, but it appears that an impasse in negotiations persists. So, barring a last minute deal, those "situations" will include:
•grand theft
•grand theft:dog
•identity theft
•false information to peace officer
•required to register as sex or arson offender
•dump waste or offensive matter
•discard appliance with lock
•loud music
•possess forged notes
•pass fictitious check
•obtain money by false voucher
•fraudulent use of access cards
•stolen license plate
•embezzlement by an employee (over $ 400)
•attempted extortion
•false personification of other
•injure telephone/ power line
•interfere with power line
•unauthorized cable tv connection
•administer/expose poison to another's

As the report notes, "The problem is money. In the last five years, the police budget -- along with the fire department budget -- have amount(ed) to 75 percent of the general fund. After years of largely sparing those departments the budget ax, now it appears there are few other places to cut."

Though there is no indication that any Minnesota cities have plans for such draconian public safety cuts in the near future, cities here are perilously close to a fiscal breaking point that is already forcing tough funding decisions. To avoid an Oakland-like consequence will certainly require a fundamental rethinking of how we provide core city services in our state.