Budget: Crime Prevention Specialists in doubt

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Northeast might soon lose 2nd Precinct crime prevention specialist Nick Juarez because of city budget cuts, which would leave the area without any of the popular “SAFE” workers who help residents work with the Minneapolis Police. Although two specialists have long served the 2nd precinct, Juarez has been alone since July, 2011, and his impending lay-off might leave the precinct without anybody in the job.

First Ward City Council Member Kevin Reich said, however, that budget negotiations aren’t over yet, and he is optimistic about saving the precinct’s two positions.

Dan Scoggins, chair of 2PAC, Second Precinct Advisory Council, said, “It was discouraging to hear that Nick has been laid off. We already lost one crime prevention specialist. Now it seems we are losing the other one, too. It’s a big loss to Northeast, not to have somebody who knows the community. People are upset about this. These are the people who interface with the residents. I know we live in tight budget times but to me, it’s all about the people.”

Juarez, a former West St. Paul City Council member, has been on the job since July, 2008. He was hired to cover sector one, south of Broadway Street NE, which includes the St. Anthony West, St. Anthony East, Beltrami, Nicollet Island, Marcy Holmes, Como and Prospect Park neighborhoods, as well as the University of Minnesota area. When the other 2nd Precinct crime prevention specialist, Carol Oosterhuis (whose area was north of Broadway) retired in 2010, Juarez worked the entire 2nd Precinct until Tom Thompson was hired. Thompson’s last day was July 15, 2011; he took a job as police chief in Balsam Lake Village, Wisconsin, and his position was not filled.

Crime prevention specialists act as residents’ first point of contact for reporting livability crimes and suspicious activities to the police. They work with renters and landlords, and inform neighbors when an area is being targeted by burglars or car thieves. Scoggins said Thompson brought the Court Watch program to the 2nd Precinct, which helps residents track offenders’ progress through the judicial system. “2PAC has at least 20 people we’ve been following. We might fill out community impact statements [about how a person’s criminal activities have affected the neighborhood]. Court Watch helps us make sure that the people getting arrested are actually going to jail.”

Juarez confirmed that he has been given a layoff notice. “Budget negotiations are still going on, and there is still a chance our positions may be saved. The final budget vote is not until Dec. 14. That would be the day that we would know for sure whether I’m staying or going. A lot can happen between now and the final vote. The public has been speaking out and sending emails to City Council members about the SAFE unit and the crime prevention specialists.”

He added that three other SAFE positions are also in question: two in the 5th precinct, and one at the Franklin Safety Center in South Minneapolis.

Bryan Schafer, 2nd Precinct Inspector, said that Juarez’s layoff notice would be effective Jan. 1, and “it concerns us greatly.” However, he added, “That’s how it stands now, but I am optimistic. It sounds like they might be finding some money to sustain the crime specialists city-wide. We haven’t gotten any official word yet and we’re kind of in a holding pattern, but it does seem like a good possibility.”

Reich, the First Ward Council Member (the First Ward includes part of the 2nd Precinct), said that city council members believe they have found some financial resources, one of them “actually within the police division itself,” that might be moved to SAFE. He added that not only does he support the program, but his aide, Shannon McDonough, formerly worked in the SAFE program for 10 years at the 4th Precinct (in North Minneapolis), and has advised him about some of the issues.

“I’m very confident that we have a resolution here, and have the will and resources to make that precinct whole,” Reich said. “It looks hopeful that the 2nd Precinct will retain two SAFE positions.” He added, however, that Juarez might not be the one to continue in the job. “We [might] find the money to keep the program whole, but we wouldn’t micromanage to that level. We don’t personalize this.”

The city founded CCP, Community Crime Prevention, in the early 1980s. In 1991 the program changed to CCP/ SAFE, and teamed civilians with police officers. Although officers were removed from the partnership program in 2004 and reassigned to patrol and other duties, the crime prevention specialist jobs have remained.