Deciding how much policing you want to pay for

The idea that intrigues me most from our recent Forced to Choose reporting is the art of deciding how much police presence you want to pay for.

As cities and counties have faced increasing budget pressure in more austere times, public safety is typically the last place local officials want to touch. But these days, even police expenditures are being examined and in some cases eliminated, and it feels like a whole new conversation is about to open up.

The city of Foley is contracting with a private security firm so it won’t have to pay the Benton County sheriff. You can feel the wave of concern rolling through the state’s law enforcement folks.

In a similar mood, the city of Nowthen decided last night not to raise taxes to pay for a contract with the Anoka County sheriff. Some of the debate preceding the council decision made it seem that at least some taxpayers are willing to test the notion of having less access to law enforcement.

New London decided this month to save $12,500 and pare back by a few hours the amount of policing it expects from the Kandiyohi County sheriff.

What does a sense of security cost? Answering that is no doubt more art than science but it does seem possible to break it down into discrete elements: Do people want 24-7 patrolling? Are there other ways to be present? Do business doors on Main Street need to be rattled at 3 a.m.?

MPR News reporter Jennifer Vogel explores these issues in a thorough story today and is talking to Tom Crann about them and more on All Things Considered this afternoon.

And if you step back a little, you can see how this debate over policing is only one element of a larger conversation about redesigning local government in Minnesota.

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