St. Paul mayor expresses skepticism of proposal to hire 50 more police officers

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter delivers remarks about the contract negotiations between St. Paul Public Schools and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers inside of Galtier Elementary School in St. Paul on Feb. 12, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is expressing skepticism about a request by the city's police chief to hire 50 more officers.

Chief Todd Axtell made that request to the St. Paul City Council's organizational committee on Wednesday, emphasizing new training to help the officers get to know the community better.

In a Facebook post Friday evening, Carter said he respects and understands Axtell's advocacy — but he said the city shouldn't be moving to hire more police officers. Instead, Carter said the city should be working to reduce the need for police.

"The philosophy that more police officers, tougher prosecutors, and bigger jails equal a safer city has failed," he wrote. "Our driving goal shouldn't be to hire as many officers as possible but to reduce the number of times we have to call police in the first place."

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR's budget year comes to a close on June 30. Help us close the gap by becoming a Sustainer today. When you make a recurring monthly gift, your gift will be matched by the MPR Member Fund for a whole year!

Carter noted that the city "spends three times more on police and fire services than on recreation centers and libraries. As long as we focus more on responding to emergencies than on preventing them in the first place, we'll never have enough police officers."

In his presentation Wednesday, Axtell told the city council committee that he believes "that when police officers get to know their community, we're all better served. ... So in a perfect world, I would like to see every officer that comes out of the St. Paul Police Academy spend six months in our community engagement unit getting to know our community before they go out there and hit the streets."

In his Facebook post, Carter wrote that "community engagement isn't simply a temporary assignment for rookie officers, nor an add-on for after we've hired 50 new officers; it must be the underlying culture of our entire police department."

The city council seemed supportive of Axtell's proposal on Wednesday; the council still is discussing the city's 2019 budget.

Carter said that he is looking forward to working with councilors and other city residents throughout the budget process, to weigh requests from the police department and other city services.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Axtell responded to Carter's post on Friday evening, saying he has "a great deal of respect" for the mayor and supports his vision for St. Paul.

"The mayor will set our budget and I will continue to lead our department to achieve our mutual goals," Axtell told the Pioneer Press.