Residents chat with Chief Axtell


St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell spoke about the department’s challenges, the main one being an increase in gun violence, at the District 2 Community Council’s Annual Meeting on April 19.

District 2 Community Council holds annual meeting​

“We’re here as neighbors concerned about our neighborhood,” said Gary Unger, a District 2 board member, kicking off the District 2 Community Council Annual Meeting.

Some 40 residents came out to the annual meeting held April 19. The guest speaker for the evening — St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell — was the main draw as he addressed residents’ questions and concerns. State Sen. Foung Hawj also attended the meeting.

Each year local district councils host annual meetings to elect new board members, share their achievements and establish goals for the next year. Often the meetings include local politicians. 

 

Addressing gun violence

Axtell spoke about his priorities for St. Paul, his number one being to address gun and gang violence.

“We’re in a really challenging time right now throughout our city,” said Axtell, adding that young people are settling disputes with guns instead of fists.

He said he would like to see Minnesota close some “loopholes” in how people obtain guns, and that background checks are not happening when guns are being sold privately or at gun shows. 

Axtell said people with criminal backgrounds or those with mental health challenges should not have guns and need to be checked.

“I think that is our obligation as a community,” Axtell said.

Axtell acknowledged that it’s difficult to prevent people from illegally obtaining firearms, but that adding background checks for private sales needs to take place.

One resident asked if violence on the East Side is better or worse than it has been in the past. Axtell said the number of shots fired calls is up 75 percent from the same time last year, and that there has been more violence in 2017

He said he and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman met late last week to find ways to address this. He said they are also “beefing up” St. Paul’s gang unit to address the gun violence.

Axtell also spoke about the diversity of the department, saying that he wants to see a more diverse police force, both racially and with respect to gender. He mentioned the department’s newest initiative, The Law Enforcement Career Path Academy, which will target youth in the city who are interested in a law enforcement career.

 

Sanctuary city?

Residents also asked about the phrase “sanctuary city,” in relation to immigration and whether St. Paul is a sanctuary city. Axtell said no, explaining that sanctuary city is a “subjective” phrase, not actually policy. He said what it really comes down to is how federal and local laws are enforced. 

He explained that local police enforce local and state laws and federal police enforce federal laws, therefore St. Paul police cannot and will not enforce immigration laws. 

Axtell said he has a “moral obligation” to protect all victims, no matter their residency status. 

He said he does not want anyone to be afraid to call police when they need help over fears of deportation, as it is not the job of St. Paul police to deport people. He said that if local police began enforcing federal laws, “we would lose the trust of the community.”

“We know that trust is the foundation of any successful police department,” Axtell said. “Without trust we have nothing.”

 

New members and goals 

The rest of the evening included the election of new board members and discussion of projects and events that took place over the last year, and goals for the next year. 

The District 2 Community Council represents the northeastern-most corner of St. Paul, an area bordered by Larpenteur Avenue to the north, McKnight Avenue to the east, the railroad and Johnson Parkway to the west and Minnehaha Avenue to the south. 

The council is well-known for its organization of the White Bear Avenue parade, which is the unofficial kick-off to the Ramsey County Fair. 

It also helps to organize an event called “Heroes and Helpers,” in which police officers and firefighters from St. Paul help kids in need shop for free holiday meals at the local Target.

This year the council has four goals -- to facilitate citizen participation in community affairs, respond to zoning and land use issues while implementing its land use policies, improve the council’s ability to manage programs, and promote outreach to all residents. 

New board members were elected, 14 in total. The neighborhood is split up into four quadrants, with White Bear and Maryland avenues dividing it up. 

In quadrant one, which is west and north of White Bear and Maryland avenues, Bryan Langford, Allison Hofstedt, and Marje Mangine were elected for the three open positions. 

In quadrant two, east and north of White Bear and Maryland avenues, Paul Skytte, Jessica Westin and Stephanie Henderson were elected for the three open positions. 

Quadrant three, west and south of White Bear and Maryland avenues, had Michaelyn Bruer, Joseph Bruer and Lori Schleis elected to fill the three open positions.

Quardrant four, east and south of White Bear and Maryland avenues had four open positions, but only two were filled by Pat Tapp and Valerie Square Briggs.

Three at-large positions were open, which were filled by Gary Unger, Rich Kramer and Jean Jansen.

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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