Commander Axel Henry, who has been with the Saint Paul Police Department in various roles for 24 years, has emerged as Mayor Melvin Carter’s choice to serve as the city’s next police chief.

In announcing his nomination on November 1, Carter highlighted Henry’s role in implementing the body cameras that Saint Paul police officers began wearing in 2018 and his work fighting domestic violence across the city. Henry’s familiarity with the city, Carter said, was another factor in his choosing Henry over the other four finalists for the job.

Police chief Axel Henry
Toward the end of his address at the press conference announcing his nomination as Saint Paul’s next chief of police, Axel Henry thanked his partner, Mikeya Griffin (center), for her support as Mayor Melvin Carter applauded. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“Commander Henry’s rich patrol and command experience, his lifetime of service to Saint Paul and his forward-thinking approach to safety have earned him broad support from our officers and residents alike,” Carter said. “He is the perfect candidate to lead our nationally renowned police department.”

Henry has command experience in every division of the SPPD. He currently serves as commander of Narcotics, Financial Intelligence & Human Trafficking, but has also held command positions in the Office of the Chief and the Family and Sexual Violence Unit and was the chief of logistics for the city’s emergency response at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council will vote on whether to confirm Henry’s nomination on November 16. If accepted, Henry will begin his six-year term as police chief on November 19.

One of Saint Paul’s own

Henry, 54, resides in the Little Bohemia area of Saint Paul’s West End neighborhood. The son of a Macalester College professor, he grew up in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood and attended Groveland Park and Webster elementary schools, Murray Junior High and Central Senior High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from the University of Saint Thomas and later returned to UST to earn a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration.

“Some would say it’s a pretty boring existence,” Henry told reporters of his lifetime in the city, “but I’m very proud of it.”

 

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Henry joined the Saint Paul Police Department in 1998 after three years with the Roseville Police Department. In his 24 years with the SPPD, he has been a patrol officer, sergeant, commander of the Central District and senior commander of the Eastern District from 2016-19.

Henry has command experience in every division of the SPPD. He currently serves as commander of Narcotics, Financial Intelligence & Human Trafficking, but has also held command positions in the Office of the Chief and the Family and Sexual Violence Unit and was the chief of logistics for the city’s emergency response at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry would become Saint Paul’s chief of police under tough circumstances. The city had a record 38 homicides in 2021, and the perception of public safety among business leaders, particularly in the downtown area, has been shaken.

According to Mayor Carter, the challenges in public safety brought about by the pandemic and the calls for police reform following the 2020 murder of George Floyd may be bigger than they have ever been. However, Henry embraced the situation, saying the key to overcoming the challenges will be the Police Department’s willingness to work with the community. “We can co-produce a public safety strategy for this city that can be a role model for the entire country,” he said.

Henry told reporters on November 1 that as chief, one of his priorities would be to
rework the department’s internal processes to ensure that employees have an adequate say in department decisions. “We don’t want employees to follow orders; we want employees to believe in the mission,” he said.

— Casey Ek

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