St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter will use his first executive order to launch a reintegration effort for residents coming out of incarceration.
The Returning Residents Advisory Council will bring together people coming out of prison with nonprofit leaders and criminal justice system professionals to make recommendations on public safety in St. Paul. It’s one of a slew of public safety initiatives — some underway and some yet to begin — that Carter detailed during his State of Our City Address on Thursday evening.
“Our traditional public safety toolbox isn’t designed to make us all feel safe, but to draw a circle, and protect those inside from the others, at all costs,” he said. “In a city that works for all of us, where we all feel safe, welcome and included, that circle cannot exist.”
Carter launched his Community-First Public Safety initiative shortly after taking office last year, but some community leaders and activists have been critical, saying they haven’t seen a difference in how the city handles public safety and policing. Jason Sole, Carter’s director of community-first public safety initiatives, left his job in January after less than a year, saying in his resignation letter that the mayor’s plans were “simply rhetoric.”
Carter used his speech to delve into the origins of Community-First Public Safety — a conversation with a group of teenagers on the city’s West Side about what makes them feel safe, he said — and to lay out its core tenets of building trust in police, creating a quality-built environment and ensuring residents are financially secure, educated and connected to their community.
Some of that work is already happening, Carter said, noting his collaboration with Chief Todd Axtell to revise the police department’s use-of-force policy and audit its K-9 unit. There are also policies outside the police department, such as budget investments in sidewalks and bike lanes and the elimination of library late fees, that will contribute to public safety, Carter said.
The crowd of about 200 residents, elected officials and city staff at Harding Senior High School on Thursday was the first to hear about new public safety efforts.
In addition to the advisory council, Carter announced the Neighborhood Justice Program — a City Attorney’s Office initiative that will provide an alternative to criminal prosecution for nonviolent, first-time offenders — and a city work group that will recommend physical improvements for parts of the city with the highest rates of violence and property crimes.
“In time, all of these efforts will make St. Paul a safer, more inclusive and more welcoming place to live,” Carter said.
A call to action
Carter also used his address to celebrate successes, including passing a citywide $15 minimum wage last year, and to call on others to act.
The mayor noted the $71 million in affordable housing investments included in his 2019 budget at the City Council’s request, and he called on the council to pass his Fair Housing Policy Agenda, a set of proposals to prevent housing discrimination and displacement, as soon as possible.
As in his inaugural address and first State of Our City Address last year, Carter also issued a call to residents.
“In my inaugural speech last year, I joked, ‘Don’t clap if you’re not going to help,’ ” Carter said, before announcing another call to action: #4SaintPaul, a challenge for St. Paulites to invest in their own lives and the lives of their fellow residents.
“I dare you not to think about grandiose efforts that take 1,000 people and a year to plan, but finite tasks you can accomplish and complete next week,” Carter said. “It’s your strength and determination, your creativity, your ideas, your grit and tenacity that keep St. Paul moving forward.”