4 in quest to head St. Paul police

  • Article by: CHAO XIONGEAST TODAY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2010 - 8:50 PM

The remaining candidates for St. Paul police chief all come from within the ranks.

Four St. Paul police officers who have come up through the ranks are vying to be the next chief.

Watch commander Todd Axtell, senior commanders Colleen Luna and Bill Martinez and Assistant Chief Tomas Smith will be interviewed for the job Thursday morning.

A fifth, external candidate, who had not been identified, withdrew from consideration last week. St. Paul historically hires its chiefs internally. The field originally included 10. The candidates all want increased community policing.

Todd Axtell

Axtell oversees the department's evening and overnight shifts, and has worked as Western District patrol commander and was Chief Bill Finney's executive officer.

His goals are fiscal responsibility, increased officer diversity and rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders.

"I really believe this is the future," he said of alternatives to incarceration.

Axtell said he plans to consolidate several units that have overlapping responsibilities, continue work with an academy he started that introduces youth to police work and support community groups that help ex-offenders.

He mentors at-risk youth and is on the board of Breaking Free, which serves sexually exploited women and girls.

Colleen Luna

Luna is senior commander of the Western District, and has been in charge of homicide and internal affairs.

She wants to reform internal affairs because investigating complaints about officers can take years when they should be resolved in 30 days, she said.

The internal affairs commander is also the chief of staff, which Luna said is a conflict of interest because the former has to investigate cases objectively, and the latter executes the discipline. The tasks should be split, she said. She also proposes consolidating some units.

Luna cited her expansion of the Western District's Shop with Cops program from 25 kids to more than 260 among her top accomplishments.

"I have a history of getting the job done," she said.

Bill Martinez

Martinez is commander of the Eastern District and helped launch the F.O.R.C.E. unit. Building trust among immigrant communities is a key goal, he said.

He said being the youngest of 12 kids born to migrant farm workers helps in his policing.

"I came from very humble beginnings," he said.

Martinez said he would like to hire an analyst to interpret crime statistics and better convey that information to officers. He would also consolidate special units.

"I have good outreach and community skills," he said.

Tomas Smith

Assistant Chief Smith helped form the department's Focusing Our Resources on Community Empowerment unit and a Somali advisory council that meets with police.

Smith was reluctant to identify goals he would pursue, but spoke generally, saying that outreach to immigrants is key.

He said his connections will be invaluable, especially in these times of financial constraints. Smith said he was able to rely on out-of-state colleagues to help with security during the Republican National Convention and that he was selected to lead a local delegation as security during President Obama's inauguration.

"I understand our city of neighborhoods," said Smith, the only St. Paul native.

Staff writer Chris Havens contributed to this report. Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391

  • WHAT'S NEXT

    •The selection committee will start interviewing the candidates at 9:30 a.m. at the Hazel Park Recreation Center, 945 N. Hazel St., St. Paul.

    •The committee will recommend up to four finalists to Mayor Chris Coleman (the committee does not have to recommend all of the candidates).

    •Candidate forums, where residents ask questions via a moderator, will be held April 26 and 27.

    •Coleman will interview the candidates himself and select his candidate by mid-May.

    •The City Council will vote whether to approve the candidate.

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