St. Paul police officer Nicole Carle and Metro Transit officer Leonard Mitchell weren’t looking for suspects Friday afternoon as they patrolled bustling Payne Avenue on St. Paul’s East Side.
They were searching for handshakes and friendly “hellos.”
Friday was the first day of a policing partnership that paired St. Paul and Metro Transit officers to police part of the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on foot and try to make positive contact with kids, business owners and other residents.
St. Paul police and transit officials are intensifying their presence in one of the most troubled areas in the east metropolitan area, as a law enforcement officers try to stem the usual uptick in crime and violence in the summer months.
The area where officers have started to patrol has been known as a hotbed for serious crime and quality of life issues, authorities say. Officers are especially focusing their community policing efforts on young adults who will be out of school for summer and often ride the buses and frequent the Arlington Hills Community Center.
“Pretty much everyone who is walking up and down Payne, we want to get to know who they are and we want them to get to know us,” Carle said as she and Mitchell continued to walk Friday.
After checking with businesses in Plaza Del Sol, the pair greeted people inside the lobby of the high-rise public housing building at 1000 Edgerton St. While most people acknowledged the officers’ greetings, some men who were sitting at a picnic table hurriedly got up and walked away as they approached. Later, a concerned mother stopped Carle and Mitchell in the Family Dollar store to have her talk to the woman’s 7-year-old daughter, who had stolen a pack of gum.
“Remember if it’s not yours, you have to ask for permission,” said Mitchell, after Carle had the girl apologize to the manager.
To Mitchell, who normally patrols Green Line trains, a successful day is when he can get a young person to view him positively as a police officer.
The nearly two square miles of the area, known to police as Grid 54, runs from Maryland Avenue in the north to Case Avenue in the south and from Arcade Street to the east to Edgerton Street in the west. The area is home to a steadily growing crop of businesses along Payne Avenue’s busy corridor and the Arlington recreation center that celebrated its anniversary Friday.
Capt. Jim Franklin, who oversees Metro Transit Police’s East Command in St. Paul, said Friday that the beat walking was a great opportunity for Metro Transit to partner with St. Paul police to build trust in the community.
“We want to have a visible presence in the area,” Franklin said.
Major bus routes cut through the area and act as pipelines to downtown St. Paul, Franklin said.
Starting next school year, nearby Johnson Senior High School will begin a pilot program where students will be able to take Metro Transit buses to school in lieu of yellow school buses.
St. Paul police Cmdr. John Lozoya said Grid 54 has historically had some of the highest numbers of violent crimes and nuisance quality of life crimes, like vandalism.
Sometimes large groups of young people get into fights or block traffic in the middle of the road, Carle said.
Earlier this week, a 13-year-old was arrested after waving a gun around on a bus. Carle stressed that a lot of the youths they encounter aren’t bad kids, but need guidance.
The Metro Transit partnership is part of a larger community policing effort to strengthen relationships in the area.
Since mid-April, six officers including Carle were reassigned to foot patrol in the area and were taken out of the rotation so they don’t have to respond to dispatch calls outside the grid, Lozoya said.
The officers must take the lead in initiating contact, whether that be introducing themselves to business owners or stopping at the recreation center to eat with kids, he said.
Their work doesn’t stop on the streets — it also includes follow-up, he said.
“It’s all about the positive community engagement.”