By Emma Nelson and Liz Sawyer
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter asked the City Council for more than $1 million in additional public safety funds on Wednesday, after a tumultuous few months that have brought the capital city’s homicide total to a 25-year high.
He made his presentation at the council’s regular afternoon meeting. It’s unclear what new policies or programs his proposal might include, though he has advocated for a multifaceted approach to public safety that involves traditional policing and community investments.
Council President Amy Brendmoen said in an interview Tuesday evening that she hadn’t seen the mayor’s final budget recommendation, but she expected it to total about $1.5 million and to include a range of proposals from group violence prevention to pedestrian safety improvements.
Clearly, the gun violence is on the top of everybody’s mind, and it’s very deeply concerning, and we need to throw as many different resources and approaches at stopping it as possible,” she said. “I think this is something that was missing from the initial budget.”
Public safety makes up the bulk of St. Paul’s general fund spending. The supplemental public safety budget would add to more than $170 million that the mayor has already requested for the police and fire departments in 2020.
Carter has been criticized for cutting police officer positions in the 2020 budget, though he’s argued that the sworn force would still be bigger than ever. Last year, the mayor and council members were criticized for adding nine new officer positions in the 2019 budget at the last minute.
Council members will vote to approve the final 2020 budget next month. The additional money for public safety could affect the tax levy, which council members have said they want to keep as low as possible after years of double-digit increases. Brendmoen said last week that she expects the levy increase to stay under 6%.
At least 147 people have been shot and 30 killed — most by gunfire — in St. Paul this year. If the killings don’t stop, the city is on track to surpass the 1992 high of 34 homicides.”
Police Chief Todd Axtell said his detectives have become so burned out by the pace of the shootings that several officers from the local FBI Safe Streets Task Force are being temporarily reassigned to help the homicide and special investigations units.
The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Marshals Service all plan to provide extra resources to the city.
Homicidal violence is often concentrated in areas of high poverty and is “tragically and unfortunately unpredictable,” Axtell said, adding that more than half the city’s homicides have been gang-related.
The bloodshed has left concerned residents asking why so many young people keep pulling the trigger and what to do about it. During Carter’s listening sessions, constituents rattled off demands for ShotSpotter technology to help detect gunfire, increased policing, firearm safety classes and more jobs.
Carter promised to spend last weekend synthesizing several hundred suggestions from residents who turned out for those conversations.
We want to meet the urgency of this moment with investment to end these cycles,” Carter told reporters Saturday at his final community forum.
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Learn about one of Mayor Carter’s initiatives to invest in St. Paul communities and prevent violence before it starts:
Read about other cities struggling with gun violence: