“Pastors, people and police” assess approaches to tackle gun violence in Saint-Paul

Reverend Runney D. Patterson Sr. of New Hope Baptist Church planned to spend three weeks over the summer focusing his outreach efforts on crime hot spots around town.

Months later, Patterson said the job wasn’t done.

“We have established a great relationship with the community,” he said.

Patterson’s “presence ministry” typically consists of volunteers and religious leaders working with a police officer to connect community members to mental health and home resources.

On a recent weekday evening, Patterson and his team were raising awareness at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic in a parking lot along Rice Street near the State Capitol.

“Pastors, people and police,” Patterson said. “Sometimes I say clergy, cops and citizens, it’ll get us all here, the police can’t do everything.”

Patterson said the hard work seems endless amid a pandemic that has ravaged lives and high levels of gun violence in St. Paul.

Over the past 17 years, Patterson has organized more than 50 funerals for black men who died violently.

“I want to go to a football game and watch them touchdowns, do their wedding ceremonies,” Patterson said. “Something happy and joyful.”

The capital has recorded more than 30 homicides so far in 2021, approaching the record of 34 set in 1992, and tied in 2020.

Gunshots and gunshot wounds are also on the rise compared to last year. Chief Todd Axtell calls 2021 the worst crime scene in recent history.

“It’s a new dynamic that we’re seeing, a lot of activity is happening in all different corners of our city,” he said.

Axtell wants to fully staff the homicide unit, which it still attributes to a 90% resolution rate today, well above the national average of around 60%. But he says the focus on homicides leaves less for lower-level but more common crimes, “like auto theft, catalytic converter theft, much more than we’ve seen in the past.”

He is also concerned about his department’s ability to respond to 911 calls in a timely manner.

Axtell has called on city leaders to approve more police spending than projected in the 2022 draft budget due to be finalized in December. Axtell’s goal is to have filled the 620 sworn officer positions. The department has 524 deployable agents, uninjured or on leave. Axtell said 90% of its budget is spent on personnel costs.

“It is also true that the number of officers in this department has declined over the past three years,” said the chief. “I don’t spend the money on more fancy patrol cars and stuff. The costs continue to rise. “

Last week, Axtell announced he would not seek another six-year position as St. Paul’s Police Chief. He resigned in June.

In 2020, violent crime increased 17% in Minnesota, including a record number of murders, according to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Mayor Melvin Carter said there was no quick fix to reducing gun violence, not even more officers.

“We have to be prepared to ask all the questions. We must be prepared to ask the legislature what it can do differently. Carter said, “It seems to be clear. We must be prepared to ask how we can police differently. “

Carter said crime in downtown St. Paul was at its lowest level in five years during the summer of 2020. The mayor said the city has increased police spending by millions of dollars in recent years. . Carter’s proposed budget for 2022 again increases police spending.

The city approved the largest police academy in its history and $ 1 million in overtime costs for the police, Carter added. The new agents will not be ready to work in the community until July.

The city is also in the process of hiring a director for a new ward security office.

Carter said the office will use residents’ data and feedback to decide how to improve public safety. A 48-member community-based Public Safety Commission met earlier in the year to discuss emergency responses.

“None of this helps at a funeral,” Carter said. The October 10 shooting that killed Marquisha Wiley, 27, and injured more than a dozen others “tells us that we are still not good enough. We will never be good enough.

Before the shoot, dozens of people danced, while a DJ played music in the popular bar opposite the Xcel Energy Center.

On a recent weekday morning, a single uniformed St. Paul police officer walked down a quiet side of West Seventh Street.

Any increased presence of agents helps restaurant owner Brian Ingram feel more secure.

“I lived in this building right here where Truck Park is located for five years,” Ingram said. “When the world was sort of normal and even when we had all these events going on, concerts going on, we didn’t have the gunshots we hear every day, the races, the cars up and down. of the hill we’re on. now. “

Ingram has several restaurants in St. Paul. He also helped start Seventh Street Truck Park. After the shooting, Ingram said his neighboring restaurant saw its income drop by 50%. As he says business is picking up with the start of the Wild X hockey games, Ingram worries about staying open and ensuring the safety of his 200 employees.

“Everyone keeps asking me, ‘When are you going to move to the suburbs?’ ”Said Ingram. “And it’s a super scary thought if everyone pulls out of here.”

Ingram is not interested in leaving.

“St. Paul is our community, and for me the only reason we were able to provide 250,000 free meals was because this community supported us.

Patterson said he hopes the community spirit and support doesn’t wane over the coming winter months. New Hope Baptist Church is looking for more volunteers to work on community outreach.

“These volunteers from St. Paul said to me, ‘Pastor P., as long as you’re ready to be here, we’ll be here with you.’ “


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