MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Every time it snows a few inches, Evelyn Nispel tramps along the streets with a small army of senior citizens who chastise people if they fail to keep their sidewalks shoveled.

''The older you get, your bones start crumbling,'' said Ms. Nispel, who is 67. ''It doesn't take much to break a hip, an arm, or a shoulder. Older citizens are scared to go out in the winter.''

Armed with orange warning tags and wearing green badges, the snow monitors patrol the sidewalks as a service to the people who walk on them.

The city of Minneapolis has given the volunteers the authority to hang the tags on the doorknobs of homeowners who violate the city's sidewalk clearing ordinance. The tags alert city inspectors, who follow up the warnings with summonses if the sidewalks remain covered with snow.

''It kind of gives you that feeling like a cop way down on the totem pole,'' Ms. Nispel said. ''The hardest part is I feel sorry hanging a tag on someone who is ill and can't do it (shovel) or who can't afford to have it done.''

Tom Smerling, an aide to Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser, said the law requires homowners to clear their sidewalks within 24 hours after the snow stops falling, while businesses and apartment complexes must do so in four hours.

Violators can be fined $11, an amount that can skyrocket to $60 if city- contracted crews are forced to do it, Smerling said.

''This isn't a matter of convenience and courtesy,'' Smerling said. ''It's a matter of public safety and a matter of life and death for seniors.''

Smerling said the status of the snow monitors has been elevated this year, and each now has the official title of deputy sidewalk inspector.

''Seniors love it,'' he said. ''It's empowering. It gives people a chance to be part of a solution to a problem that affects them directly.''

But Ms. Nispel said her group is not parochial about its purpose.

''I'm not only doing it for we senior citizens, but it's good for people who walk to work or catch the bus,'' she said.