St. Paul announces Community-First Public Safety Commission to envision changes to police response

The City of Saint Paul hosted a virtual press conference Tuesday to announce a new public safety commission that will be led by members of the community to help change the way the city responds to emergencies. 

Mayor Melvin Carter and St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell told participants the formation of this is commission is not so much in response to recent events, but more the culmination of work they’ve been doing for years. However, they said they feel it is needed now, more than ever. 

Tuesday’s announcement was held solely online, evidence that the current way of operating is undergoing some changes.

“Doing a press conference like this virtually from all different places is an unusual thing,” said Mayor Carter.

In line with the adapting times comes the new Community-First Public Safety Commission. It is designed to help the community’s relationship with the police department and to help the police department keep the community safe as it continues to see a growing number of 911 calls.

“We are carving out everything we possibly can at this time to keep up with the demands for service,” said Chief Axtell.

According to the City of St. Paul, between 2016 and 2019 the number of calls for service grew by more than 44,000. After roughly six months of discussion, the commission will go in front of the council with some recommendations on different ways to respond to some lower priority, non-emergency calls to help the strain on the police department.

“It’s important to note that Priority 4 calls can range from anything to an aggravated assault where there is no suspect on scene to a loud barking dog,” said Chief Axtell. “So certainly not all, but some of those calls could be handled by people other than sworn police officers at a savings to the community.”

Independent of the city, led by the Citizens League, committee chairs hope this collaboration can help bring in different voices to come to the best conclusion for what the community needs to stay together, and stay safe.

“We’re all going through this challenge together and under these circumstances, solving the challenges that we are going to face there are going to require some cross sector collaboration along with new models and new ways of thinking,” said John Marshall, commission co-chair and director of community relations for Xcel Energy.

The commission will be made of roughly 40 members from different groups within the St. Paul community. The list is still being finalized. The city council will vote on this resolution on Wednesday.