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Against a backdrop of rising gun violence, Saint Paul officials are deliberating how to reshape the city’s 2022 public safety budget. Crime and public safety are likely to dominate Mayor Melvin Carter’s upcoming series of city budget roundtables open to the public on June 22, June 30 and July 8.

City Council members said they want more information on how programs under the city’s Community First Public Safety umbrella are performing. Just as the City Council has received updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine programs, regular updates are needed on efforts to address violence, said council president Amy Brendmoen.

More frequent updates could also inform the entire 2022 budget process. Carter will present his budget proposal in August. The City Council will follow with its own reviews before voting on the budget and levy at the end of the year.

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The city spent $1.4 million on Community First Public Safety in 2019 and again in 2020.

The mayor focused on his Community First Public Safety initiative and the work of its citizen commission during his state of the city address on May 27. A day earlier, City Council members heard updates on the Community First Public Safety working groups, including nonprofit partners Healing Streets and Community Ambassadors and the efforts by several city departments.

The council and department heads are also studying a 491-page report issued this spring by the 48-member Community First Public Safety Commission and the Citizens League to see how ideas cited in that report can be incorporated in 2022 and beyond. The report addressed alternative responses to lower-priority police calls and traffic stops, and the notion of creating a new city Office of Neighborhood Safety.

The police department is also looking at the commission’s report, according to police spokesperson Steve Linders. “Chief (Todd) Axtell appreciates the commission’s thoughtful work and looks forward to learning more about its recommendations as we all work together in the best interest of public safety in Saint Paul,” he said.

“Ultimately we want to interrupt cycles of crime and violence,” said Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher. She described ongoing efforts as well as plans underway for rapid response teams to help people in crisis.

In his state of the city address, Carter said that dealing with cycles of violence requires the same type of comprehensive and coordinated approach that the city took to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve begun much of this work together to build the most comprehensive, coordinated and data-driven public safety system our city has ever endeavored,” Carter said.

Community First Public Safety has taken a public health approach to violence prevention. It has also focused on jobs and resources for youths, housing and mental health support, implementing restorative justice practices, and embedding social workers with first responders to aid people in crisis.

Ten people have been killed by gunfire in Saint Paul so far in 2021, and more than 80 people have been injured. That is a slight increase from the same time period in 2020.

“Ultimately we want to interrupt cycles of crime and violence,” said Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher. She described ongoing efforts as well as plans underway for rapid response teams to help people in crisis.

Last month, two young people were shot and injured near the Frogtown Community Center. Tincher described the work before and after the shootings as an example of what is underway. The Community Ambassadors program was already working at the center before the shootings. Healing Streets is working with victims afterward. 

Healing Streets has interacted with more than 200 families this year. The program is provided through Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health. One concern City Council members raised last year was the lack of staff in Healing Streets. The program now has four full-time mediators.

Council members said that while they appreciate Healing Streets’ efforts to prevent gun violence and to work with crime victims after the fact, the program got a slower start than they would have liked to see. They also said they need to see results and more data.

While Healing Streets is a newer effort, other programs under Community First Public Safety have been around for several years. City and program staff gave an overview of each program on May 26.

The Community Ambassadors program, for example, has been around for about eight years and has grown from 36 to 50 people who work to help at-risk youths. It has teams operating in the Midway, Frogtown, North End and Sun Ray neighborhoods.

The Rec Check activity program for children in grades 1-5 and the Right Track youth employment program also have long records of service in Saint Paul. The Community Ambassadors program works with Right Track to provide 35 youths with summer jobs.

For an update on the mayor’s upcoming series of public budget meetings, visit stpaul.gov/budget-roundtables.

— Jane McClure

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