City Council also agrees to revise qualifications for new police chief.

With the help of new federal funds, Saint Paul will be adding up to 30 police officers, replacing over 1,200 public safety radios and stepping up efforts to reverse the rising incidence of carjackings and gunshots fired. The City Council on March 23 also voted to revise the qualifications for a new chief of police in an attempt to broaden the search for a successor to retiring Chief Todd Axtell.

The Reverend James Thomas, leader of the Black Ministerial Alliance, and Tyrone Terrell, president of the African American Leadership Council, urged the City Council to remove the requirement that police chief candidates have supervisory experience in a law enforcement department with at least 500 officers. Without that change, they said, only two Black law enforcement officers in the state would be eligible for the job.

Terrell told the council that among Blacks, the post of police chief is the most important job in the city. “Our community is the most impacted by crime,” he said. “Our community has been most impacted by police shootings.”

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“We do want to have a person who is connected to our community,” Thomas said.

The City Council was unanimous in agreeing with the change. Ward 2 City Council member Rebecca Noecker said it is important to cast as wide a net as possible.

The other qualifications for Saint Paul’s new police chief remain. Candidates must have at least four years of administrative-level experience as a police chief, deputy chief commander or the equivalent. And that experience must be in a metropolitan area with at least 200,000 residents.

The City Council voted 4-2 to accept a $3.75 million federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant. The grant, which will assist in the hiring of up to 30 new police officers, must be matched by the city with an outlay of at least $1.8 million per year for the next three years.

The council also heard from several members of ISAIAH, who urged city leaders to take their time in the hiring process and consider a chief with a background in social services, mental health and working with diverse communities.

The City Council voted 4-2 to accept a $3.75 million federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant. The grant, which will assist in the hiring of up to 30 new police officers, must be matched by the city with an outlay of at least $1.8 million per year for the next three years.

Council members Noecker, Amy Brendmoen, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert voted to accept the grant, Mitra Jalali and Nelsie Yang voted against it, and Jane Prince was absent. Thao cited the recent uptick in carjackings and violent crime in supporting the grant. Jalali and Yang have consistently supported more nontraditional law enforcement measures. Jalali said she was also concerned about the financial implications for the city once the federal money runs out.

Mayor Melvin Carter has expressed support for the COPS grant, which is from the U.S. Department of Justice. The city’s match will come from federal American Rescue Plan dollars.

New police officers will help fill department vacancies

The COPS grant will supplement the city’s plan to hire 80 new police officers in the coming months through the two police academies that are being conducted in Saint Paul this year. That plan does not increase the police department’s authorized strength of 619 officers, but is meant to fill vacancies. The department is currently at 589 officers, a number that includes more than 50 recent hires. However, the police are anticipating more retirements.

The Saint Paul Police Department initially applied for the COPS grant without vetting it with the council. That prompted the council to make technical changes in how city departments apply for outside funding.

Saint Paul and Ramsey County officials recently announced other public safety measures that will be coming with the help of federal funding. They include almost $2 million to replace about 1,300 hand-held and vehicle radios used by Saint Paul police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

A $900,000 federal grant will go to a Ramsey County violence prevention project that focuses on such crimes as carjackings and gunshots fired. That project is directed at the people who are most at risk of becoming involved in violent criminal activity. It includes such interventions as jobs and skills training and substance abuse counseling.

— Jane McClure

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