Soucheray: If we didn’t have the police chief we have, we’d want to invent him, says council member Prince

Jane Prince, now in her second term representing Ward 7 on the Greater East Side, was comfortably ahead of the curve during her last campaign for her St. Paul City Council seat. It’s not called the Greater East Side on any maps, but it runs from Swede Hollow to Battle Creek with way stops at Dayton’s Bluff, Mounds Park, Conway, Highland and Eastview.
During her due diligence door-knocking, Prince asked her constituents if they wished for fewer police on the streets.
“To a person, the answer was no,” Prince said. “And I’m talking about some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. I wasn’t looking to cut police, I was just curious.”
Prince — we chatted by email and by phone — was attempting perhaps to accommodate an occasionally hyperventilating newspaper columnist who tends to paint city councils with a broad brush. Prince said the mayor and most of the city council are strongly behind the police department. There are new, younger and, well, more activist-class members of the council who view the police through only one suspicious lens, that they are mean, authoritarian, racist, unforgiving, dangerous and all the other false clichés of the activist class from Seattle to New York and all major cities in between.
Prince says not in our town. Prince would sooner look at police departments on a case-by-case basis, and she believes, refreshingly, that St. Paul has the best police department in the country, a model for other cities, particularly for its Community Outreach and Stabilization Team; mental health professionals are already embedded in the department.
In other words, and however having gone untouted, the St. Paul Police Department has already developed what other cities are clamoring for, mental health interventionists at the ready.
Prince credits the chief, Todd Axtell.
“Axtell’s three priorities when he was sworn in into office in 2016,” Prince wrote me last week “were to hire a department that reflects the diversity of the city, to create the community engagement unit with civilian liaisons to work with our diverse communities, and to get guns off the street. He has achieved the first two; and on the third, more, not fewer officers, are needed to combat the proliferation of gun violence we are seeing in St. Paul.”
And there you have it, an actual city council member who believes we need more police. Bravo. Prince is more seasoned than most of her colleagues. She has earned her counsel.
Unfortunately, there will not soon be more officers. Due to budget constraints, the annual police academy has been called off. The recruits who comprised the class are students who had been hand-picked and trained through the department’s Law Enforcement Career Path Academy. These young people are AmeriCorps volunteers who served two years in the SPPD Community Engagement Unit, while they earned their law enforcement associate’s degree.
Prince said those young cops are now getting snapped up by surrounding communities.
“For my colleagues who talk about ‘community first public safety,’ ” Prince wrote, “those young recruits are the embodiment of it.”
The department needs to realize about $4 million in retirement savings prior to hiring an academy in 2021. Prince said that with the department down by 20 officers now, it’s safe to say it will be down by at least 40 officers prior to an academy being hired.
“When we think about reimagining law enforcement,” Prince wrote, “we’d be trying to invent Chief Axtell if we didn’t already have him. It’s time we recognize the SPPD is renowned for leadership in community policing; it is a model department that, while taking responsibility for its shortcomings, is constantly seeking to innovate and improve.”
Yes, but. Yes, but.
Prince acknowledged that it’s sometimes hard for Democrats to support cops, but they have to get here.
“Will you run for mayor?”
Just thought I’d ask.
Joe Soucheray can be reached at Soucheray’s “Garage Logic” podcast can be heard at Articles

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