St. Paul directs $10 million into public safety plan

To curb crime, St. Paul is putting $10 million into a variety of public safety initiatives, though only a portion of the money will go to police.

Mayor Melvin Carter held a news conference Friday with U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith about the money, which comes from the federal American Rescue Plan.

The city will put $4 million into the Office of Neighborhood Safety to fund community-led nonviolence efforts. Libraries will get $1.5 million, with another $1.5 million going to parks and recreation programs. The city will spend an additional $1 million on traffic and pedestrian safety. A $2 million federal grant will hire new police officers.

"It really makes a difference when you get that (federal grant) money. But then it matters what you do with it," Klobuchar said while endorsing the city's plan.

St. Paul is not the only city using federal relief dollars for public safety initiatives. Some of the spending plans are similar to ones previously announced in Minneapolis.

"It’s a whole collaborative approach," said Brooke Blakey, St. Paul's neighborhood safety director. "So, it looks a little different, but it really is rooted in the village taking care of the family and taking care of the folks around it."

A small number of people commit a big percentage of crimes in the city, St. Paul police officials said. While law enforcement is still required for violent crimes, prevention and intervention programs will be more successful at curbing issues before they happen, they said.

The approach clashes with a police-centric one favored by Republicans. During this year's legislative session, GOP lawmakers blocked funding for nonprofit violence intervention groups, labeling them as unproven when compared with police.

Instead, the party's standard bearers in the governor and attorney general races have called for more police funding, longer prison sentences, new criminal penalties in state law, and more scrutiny of prosecutors and judges who go easy on people who commit crimes.

"When I ask people across the state of Minnesota, whether it’s in greater Minnesota or in the urban areas, 'Do you feel safer than you did four years ago?," they’re saying no," Dr. Scott Jensen, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, told reporters in June. 

Minneapolis is down more than 300 police officers since early 2020 amid a wave of early retirements and duty disability claims. St. Paul has not seen that level of attrition, but has fallen below its authorized sworn strength.

Carter said a tough-on-crime approach that focuses on police would not solve the city's problems.

"We’ve got to center outcomes, frankly, over the rhetoric," he said. "The more people we bring into this conversation, what we find is community members know that outdated approach that you just described hasn’t worked. They know that we’ve tried it before."