St. Paul might close its public skyway system earlier each evening in an effort to improve safety downtown.
City leaders announced that possibility Wednesday, along with other steps to improve the approximately 5-mile skyway system. Downtown property owners and residents have frequently complained to city officials about an increase in crime and people sleeping in the skyways over the past couple of years.
"We need to make sure that they are safe and welcoming," Mayor Chris Coleman said.
St. Paul's rules guiding skyway security and acceptable skyway behavior are outdated, officials said, and they plan to send updates to the City Council in July.
Those changes will include ensuring security staff are trained and know when to call police, and that building owners eliminate "hiding spaces," said Ricardo Cervantes, director of safety and inspections. If owners rely on security cameras, the cameras need to be monitored, he said. And if they have a guard, that person needs to do hourly inspections.
The skyway system is now open until 2 a.m. The city is considering requiring building owners to lock skyway doors at midnight instead, Cervantes said.
City officials formed a work group with building owners in February to look into skyway issues and come up with solutions, like the regulatory updates.
"When the law isn't clear, our police officers aren't able to enforce it with confidence. And those who use the skyways aren't sure about what's acceptable," said City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who is part of the work group.
The police department added patrols downtown over the past few years, Police Chief Todd Axtell said. While violent crime dropped downtown from 2014 to 2016, quality of life crimes — like people sleeping or urinating in skyways — increased, according to police data.
The second phase of construction planned at Catholic Charities' homeless shelter is critical to give people assistance and a place to sleep, Coleman said.
"It is inhumane that their only option should be our skyway system … or our trains and our buses," Noecker said.
The announcement Wednesday came a week after landlord Jaunae Brooks told the City Council stories of people vandalizing her Lowertown building and sleeping there illegally. She said she fears businesses who rent space in her building will leave downtown St. Paul.
Brooks started illegally locking her skyway doors at 8 p.m. and wants to continue doing so.