St. Paul police adds its most diverse recruit class to their ranks as city works to combat violence

Recruit Victor Rodriguez poses on stage as he was sworn in on Thursday.

Thirty-nine officers sworn in on Thursday became the most diverse recruit class St. Paul has ever seen.

Leaders say the department has taken a different approach to bring in recruits that are more diverse and, as departments across the country struggle to bring in new officers, the ceremony was proof of just that.

For recruit Victor Rodriguez, everything has come full circle for the St. Paul native, who went through his second graduation at his old high school on Thursday.

"The first time I graduated from the school, I didn’t know where I was going to go in life, what I was going to do," said Rodriguez. "I thought I would be a painter or construction worker my entire life."

But he’s now on a new path: Victor is officially becoming a St. Paul police officer. He’s among 39 recruits to join the ranks of the St. Paul Police Department on what’s considered a historic night for the department.

"This is the most diverse academy in the 166 years of the St. Paul Police Department," said Chief Todd Axtell.

Every recruit’s story is different. Victor is one of nine graduates who came from the Law Enforcement Career Path Academy, a program started in 2017 by Chief Axtell to bring more diversity into the department.

"We have knocked down barriers traditional barriers that have prevented young people, young adults from becoming police officers," explained the chief.

The chief says a program like this is critical to the department right now.

"It's harder than ever to recruit police officers right," said Chief Axtell. "We just had a recent opening where we had historic lows for police officers applying for St. Paul jobs. So this career pathway allows us to break down those barriers and to reach out to more people."

For Victor, this night is a new beginning, both for the recruits and St. Paul.

"We’re here to help, we’re motivated, we want things to change we want the community to trust the police department," said Rodriguez. "We want them to trust us that we are here with good hearts."

There are now 636 officers in the department, although only 572 are deployable with some officers out for military deployment, maternity, and medical leave. The chief says these numbers put them in a better position to serve the community.