The five candidates vying to become St. Paul's next police chief fielded questions about diversity, police use of force and transparency at a public forum Wednesday evening.
The question-and-answer format moderated by Mayor Chris Coleman was attended by about 150 citizens who submitted written questions that were vetted before they were read aloud by the mayor.
Minneapolis police Lt. Eddie Frizell, the only external candidate for the post, said St. Paul needs a pair of "fresh eyes" to guide it into the future.
"As a person of color, I can tell you my frame of reference is not always being a police officer," Frizell said of his perspective on police use of force.
The four other candidates have long careers with St. Paul police in high-ranking roles: Assistant Chief Todd Axtell, Cmdr. Colleen Luna, senior Cmdr. Tina McNamara and senior Cmdr. Matt Toupal.
The candidates echoed one another in stressing the need to diversify the department by recruiting officers of color and women from the community, starting at the high school level, and training them as future leaders.
One resident asked the candidates to describe a time they de-escalated violence and tension in a situation.
Luna said that several years ago, she and her partner responded to a suicidal teen armed with a knife and spoke to the boy for 50 minutes instead of using force.
"We eventually talked him out of his knife and got him to the hospital," she said.
McNamara cited her work around 2009 with 32 young men involved in gang activity.
"It was a huge learning experience for me," she said.
As commander of the gang unit, McNamara met and worked with the men in an attempt to stem a spike in assaults and help them turn their lives around and understand their life choices.
"Instead of talking at people, we need to start talking to people," Toupal said, recounting how he defused a standoff and returned to the scene the next day to listen to several community members' concerns.
Axtell said he was a hostage negotiator for several years. Hiring a more diverse department, women in particular, is key in long-term success in de-escalating tension on police calls, he said.
Frizell cited his work as a crisis negotiator with Minneapolis police, noted that officers need to use words before force and said police and community members need to work as a team to protect lives.
A second public forum will be held Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Progressive Baptist Church, 1505 Burns Av., St. Paul, in the main sanctuary.
Coleman will submit his choice to replace former Chief Thomas Smith, who retired in May, to the City Council for approval.
For more about the police chief selection process, visit stpaul.gov/policechief.