A father in St. Paul e-mailed mayoral candidate Pat Harris last week to tell him that at 1:15 a.m., a bullet flew through the window of his one-month-old daughter’s bedroom.
Gun violence in St. Paul is an epidemic, Harris said Monday as he laid out a five-point plan aimed at ending it. He proposed adding 50 police officers to the 599-person force, strengthening prosecution and increasing community outreach.
“It is indefensible, unconscionable and immoral for any parent of any child in any corner of St. Paul to live in fear,” he said.
Along with adding officers who reflect the city’s diversity, Harris said he plans to ask the city attorney to assign a “gun violence community prosecutor” to focus on the issue and would create a joint prosecution unit with Ramsey County.
Harris also plans to hire a community violence prevention coordinator, meet monthly with community members to ensure the city is investing properly in safety, and create a work group that would develop a plan on how best to respond to incidents.
For retired police Chief Thomas Smith, one piece of the plan stood out: Harris promised to show up within 24 hours at the scene of a violent death to talk with people about what they need to heal and ways to prevent such murders.
“It sends a strong message for him to say that,” said Smith, who was among the supporters who stood with Harris as he delivered his plan next to the Police Department’s eastern district station. Police union representatives and Council Member Dan Bostrom were also part of the group and said Harris, who has a background in finance, would be able to find money in the budget to bolster police ranks.
The event came a week after one of Harris’s opponents, Melvin Carter, presented his police reform plan. It did not include adding more officers, though Carter said he would work with the community and police chief to determine the right number of police.
Carter’s campaign manager Emily Weber said in a statement Monday that Harris’ proposal is “more of the same old policies and practices.”
“We sell our city short when we make a simplistic and wrongheaded assumption that more cops equal more safety, without working to improve the public trust essential to making their work effective,” Weber said.
Another candidate, City Council Member Dai Thao, said he would add six to 10 officers a year. Both Harris and Thao expressed interest in ShotSpotter, technology Minneapolis uses that helps officers respond faster when shots are fired. But Thao said Monday the next mayor has to balance spending on police and addressing social issues.
“When people are hungry, when they don’t have places to live, when they are desperate, crime is not going to go away,” Thao said.