A group of 40 people will spend the winter rethinking St. Paul's approach to public safety, including how the capital city responds to the lowest-priority 911 calls.
Mayor Melvin Carter on Tuesday announced the launch of a Community-First Public Safety Commission that will be led by the nonprofit Citizens League. Though membership is still being finalized, the appointed commission is expected to be made up of people who work in a range of areas, from local government and law enforcement to education, business and faith.
"This is work that we have built together, that we are building together," Carter said. "This is about charting a course for our city that will be a long-term course that will require our continued engagement over time."
The commission will be co-chaired by John Marshall, Xcel Energy's director of community relations for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and Acooa Ellis, senior vice president of community impact for the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
They will start work immediately and report back in May, when the City Council will consider the group's recommendations as it crafts the 2022 budget.
St. Paul has approached major policy changes on housing and the minimum wage in a similar way. City Council President Amy Brendmoen said Tuesday that she's "so grateful to be part of a caring and thoughtful community of leaders that are willing to challenge ourselves to do better."
"I really think it takes courage to get past the headlines and the tweets and the posts and really challenge ourselves and reflect and try to move ourselves into a better place by being willing to have those courageous conversations," she said.
Carter has made community-first public safety a top priority since taking office.
Last year, in response to a rise in violent crime, the mayor proposed a $1.7 million community-first public safety budget, though the programs it was intended to pay for have been slow to roll out as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As in cities across the country, violent crime has continued to rock St. Paul this year, with the number of shootings and homicides already surpassing those of 2019.
The public safety commission isn't expected to recommend changes to how the city responds to violent crime. It will focus on nonemergency matters such as loud parties, barking dogs and shoplifters being held by store security personnel. These calls typically don't require urgent police response.
Police Chief Todd Axtell described the commission as an opportunity to build on work already happening in the police department. He said he expects to be involved throughout the process.
"I have no worries that this is going to have a negative impact to public safety," Axtell said, "because we do have a voice and certainly a seat at the table."