St. Paul police Chief Todd Axtell outlined initiatives and changes Wednesday for his department’s upcoming year and budget, key among them a new multimillion-dollar training facility and five new officers.
Axtell’s presentation before the City Council budget committee also hit on key points he’s long stressed: bumping up the number of female officers and officers of color, increasing community engagement and reducing gun violence.
Surprises included a dramatic increase in the department’s collection of DNA and fingerprint evidence and the need for new officers — in part, Axtell said, to help address “challenges” along the light rail and downtown.
The collection of DNA samples has increased 76 percent, while the number of latent fingerprints collected has jumped by 387 percent, said Assistant Chief Kathy Wuorinen, who helped with Axtell’s proposal.
The department funds two positions at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) dedicated to St. Paul cases. Axtell proposed eliminating one of them in order to hire a forensic scientist to work at the department’s forensic services unit, which processes fingerprints, among other work. The BCA conducts drug and DNA testing for the department.
St. Paul police plan to add five officers starting next year using grant funding at a cost of $202,695. That would bump up their ranks to a total to 620 sworn officers. But ongoing costs would start in 2019 at $521,000.
“We have observed increases in crime along light rail and downtown,” Axtell said, explaining the need for additional officers.
The Green Line, running along University Avenue and into downtown, opened in June 2014. Police launched an effort this summer to reduce crime along the University Avenue corridor.
City Council member Rebecca Noecker asked for clarity about the need. Axtell said the five officers would also work on problem properties and other issues.
Other projects and costs included: A body camera pilot program originally slated to start in August will launch in October or November with 40 officers, the addition of three “community engagement specialists” in the new community engagement unit, and a new training facility.
The department will finally shutter its old headquarters downtown at 100 E. 10th St. when its new training facility opens next fall. The project breaks ground next week at 600 Lafayette Road.
The 40,852-square-foot facility will include classrooms, administrative offices, spaces for virtual training and a 12-person gun range. The St. Paul Port Authority purchased the site and is managing the construction, but the city will take over ownership and ongoing costs.
The Port Authority obtained a $1.5 million construction loan, which is being supplemented with a $3 million contribution from the St. Paul Police Foundation.