St. Paul Police chief: Axel Henry is mayor's pick to lead department

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter revealed Commander Axel Henry is his choice to lead the St. Paul Police Department as the next chief. 

Henry, who is part of the narcotics, financial intelligence, and human trafficking division, started with the St. Paul Police Department in 1998.

RELATED: St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell marks his last day with SPPD

He was among five candidates – four of whom are currently with the department – on the shortlist to be the next police chief. The others on the list were: 

  • Dr. Jacqueline Bailey Davis, who is currently an inspector with the Philadelphia Police Department.
  • St. Paul Police Unit Commander for Community Partnerships Pamela Barragan, who has been with the department since 1996.
  • Senior Commander of the Eastern District Kurtis Hallstrom, who has been with the St. Paul Police Department since 1999.
  • Assistant Chief of Police Stacy Murphy.

Continuing a long tradition, the nominee to be St. Paul’s next police chief is rising from the ranks.

"I’m confident that as chief, Axel Henry will uphold the highest level of service our community has come to expect as we work to move our capital city forward," said Mayor Melvin Carter as he introduced his choice to take the top job.

"Commander Henry’s entire lifetime and legacy of service embodies the values that we are seeking to advance," Carter said.

Commander Axel Henry currently heads up St. Paul’s narcotics and human trafficking unit but has been with the department since 1998.   He also grew up in St. Paul.

"We can co-produce a public safety strategy for this city that can be a role model for the entire country," said Henry at the press conference announcing his nomination.

"There are a lot of troubles people will point to," he said, "but I am inspired by the potential of this city and this community and how we operate together."

If approved by the city council next week, Henry will take over a department that is not immune to the challenges of the past several years, both the rise in violent crime during and since the pandemic and the difficulty in retaining and recruiting officers in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

St. Paul PD currently has 578 sworn officers, down only 30 from the fall of 2019.  But it is more than 40 below its current authorized strength.

Its homicide clearance rate has slipped but remains relatively high.  Currently, at 82% through mid-October of 2022, that compares to 92% and 89% in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

Former chief Todd Axtell, who generally received high marks from community leaders, announced his retirement one year ago, finishing out his career at the end of May.  He posted a congratulatory message on his Facebook page, calling Henry "an excellent choice" who "knows and understands the city."

Henry was selected from five finalists, four of whom came from within the department.

"One of the reasons the SPPD is a national model of excellence," Axtell wrote, "is because it raises its own leaders. I’m excited to see that tradition continue."

Commander Henry, if approved, takes the top job at a time when police departments are under higher scrutiny than ever for how they interact with and serves the public they’re sworn to protect.

Henry points to his experience at SPPD: he spearheaded the department’s body-worn camera program and spent more than 20 years as a use-of-force trainer.

But certainly, another connection to the community is his partner, Mikeya Griffin, who he introduced and thanked at the end of his remarks.  Griffin is the Executive Director of the Rondo Community Land Trust, which works to provide and sustain affordable housing in historically Black communities.

"The fact that we’re a couple together that both have a recognized role in this city right now, and that we actually are unified in that, I think is actually a good symbol. And we’re proud to have it."

Carter's appointment is subject to the St. Paul City Council's approval. The St. Paul City Council is expected to vote on Henry’s nomination next week.

In a tweet, former St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said Henry is "an excellent choice, bringing a wealth of experience, a track record of success and strong community relationships with him to the job. And perhaps most importantly, he knows and understands the city, its people and its needs.