Police Chief Tom Smith spoke at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension offices on Maryland Avenue E. about his department’s past and upcoming challenges as part of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce’s public affairs series.
Among future challenges, more people will be flooding the city with the opening of the Green Line LRT that will run between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul starting next year and the full use of the refurbished Union Depot, which will be the second largest transit hub in the metro following the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Smith said.
City police have started consulting with Metro Transit police to determine how to best handle the influx.
In his wide-ranging remarks, Smith, who’s been chief for about three years, pointed to several of the department’s publicized controversies, including the overhaul of the city’s crime lab which recently got a new manager, officers caught wearing Muslim hijabs during Halloween and a YouTube video that captures a St. Paul officer kicking a suspect during an arrest.
“We hold ourselves accountable in St. Paul,” Smith said, referring to an internal investigation in which two officers involved in the arrest face disciplinary action.
Smith added that the proliferation of social media and technological advances means law enforcement has to be even more transparent.
“I didn’t know what the heck a tweet was for the longest time,” Smith said.
Now, a lot of the department’s news is shared via Twitter and Facebook.
There is some good news. Overall Part 1 crime, which includes homicides, rape, robbery and other serious crimes, has been down so far this year. And the department has undertaken community outreach efforts such as a fishing tournament with at-risk youth last week and a cookout and police fair for the area’s East African community last month.
However, garage burglaries and cellphone robberies have been areas of concern, Smith said.
The department is launching several new crime-fighting efforts such as a retail organized theft unit initiative being explored to help address thefts from businesses in the Midway area and re-equipping downtown beat officers with a way to be paged by business owners who want to report problems.