OPINION | Management accountability needed to address bloat in law enforcement

As I travel about the state, people, invariably kind, seem incredulous 1) that I’m still alive, and 2) that I make Minnesota my home. Maybe I should get out more.

Then comes, “What are you doing now?”

The truth is, as little as possible.

“Are you writing?”

That’s a tougher question. Frankly, I don’t especially want to write anything, firmly ensconced in the belief that I’ve said all I’ve ever wanted or needed to say.

But … every once in a while a topic bubbles within and finally boils to the surface and over. Then, as I’m doing now, I have to write about it.

Geezers, though, need to avoid garrulousness like the proverbial plague. I’m not sure I can or do.

Today’s bubbling began with a story about NYC’s fiscal plight, a concern for every town (Detroit comes to mind).

In 1975, New York faced a desperate crisis. Thousands of cops were laid off. I gave a speech that appeared on the front page of the New York Times citing cutbacks that would avoid layoffs—a small stone into a large lake, nary a ripple.

I sent a memo to the police commissioner that I had 10 more captains than I needed and he could have them for use elsewhere. He responded that my proposal was denied and added that I was not to send any future memos on such topics.

In the Transit Police, we did not make a single promotion, in a force of thousands, for the three years I served there—and we still had more than enough super-annuated supernumeraries at the dismal end.

In Minneapolis, I encountered 22 captains and decided I needed 10, and never, over nine years, promoted anyone to that rank, or any other. I made a few replacements and never asked for an additional cop.

I returned a budget surplus for eight of my nine years there (perversely, the city gave me grief over this return of funds); cut down on overtime funds and sick time abuses; reduced precincts from six to four; went to one-person squad patrols; and sharply reduced settlements in lawsuits. My pleas to eliminate the indemnification of abusive cops had its effect on the behaviors of the few thumpers (alpha males) in the ranks. Quaintly, I even stuck to eight-hour workdays and 40-hour weeks.

All this during periods of exploding crime levels. The effects of Roe v Wade would not kick in until 1990, and I had to go in 1988. A tremendous peace dividend followed a great Minnesotan’s gift to America: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court decision on abortion in 1973. Teen pregnancies declined by 50% by 2012.

My anguish rests on the handwringing that attends every municipal administration; yet they seem content to accept the fallacies that attend calls for more cops, more teachers, more everything—save managing for economy. And I’m pretty sure that applies across the governmental board—local and national, including that sacred cow—defense.

The sharp cutbacks were accompanied by surging productivity levels. Arrests soared. Traffic citations went through the roof. More emergencies were answered faster (with one-person cars you could field a lot more vehicles to respond to these), yet crime continued to rise—in the Bronx, the subways and in Minneapolis.

What does it all mean?

That officials preside over bloat.

Cops, for sure, have a big job to do, but preventing crime isn’t it. Government unions have grown so powerful that criminals, psychos and miscreants cannot be fired. Officials collaborate. Private industry is subjected to the merciless efficiency of capitalism. I believe in welfare, public housing, food stamps and a sturdy safety net. I also believe in accountability and management.

The latter are in short supply in government.

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