St. Paul suffered a rash of deadly gun violence this week — including three deaths within nine hours. And with 19 homicides and 114 people shot, the city could have one of its highest-ever number of shootings this year.
The recent shooting spree started Monday afternoon in the North End, when a pedestrian was hit by gunfire from across the street. Later that day, a good Samaritan was shot and killed while trying to help victims of a car crash on the East Side. Then early Tuesday, two men were shot in Frogtown and one later died at Regions Hospital.
And just the week before, on Labor Day night, fights broke out, a woman was hit by a vehicle and shots were fired near the main gate of the Minnesota State Fair. Three men were injured and hundreds of frightened fairgoers fled, fearing that yet another mass shooting might have been unfolding.
The recent violence, along with the proliferation of guns on the streets, should convince city leaders that the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) needs more officers. The presence of additional cops can deter crime, and effective patrol officers who have the time can build connections and trust in the communities they serve. More investigators are also needed to solve crimes and discover patterns.
Nevertheless, Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2020 budget would reduce the maximum authorized number of sworn officers from 635 to 630. Last year, the mayor authorized an increase of nine sworn cops, but those positions were not filled. If Carter’s recommendation holds, the force could add four sworn officers next year, and the mayor said reallocations already have put more officers on the street.
Carter points out that the SPPD budget was increased by $4.5 million last year, and he’s proposing another $4.5 million hike in 2020. The majority of that money covers negotiated salary increases and benefit costs, however.
Like Minneapolis, law enforcement demands are growing. Both cities have growing populations and business districts, and that growth has made policing both cities more complex.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said the number of 911 calls jumped 23% from 2014 to 2018, and in the past year more than 5,000 high-priority calls could not be dispatched within 30 seconds because no officers were available.
Providing the Police Department with adequate resources is critical, but it can’t be the only response to the recent mayhem in St. Paul. As leaders of the city’s African-American community said this week during an emotional news conference, neighbors must come together to prevent young black men from becoming involved in violent crime, in part by providing alternatives to gangs.
The city also needs to learn more about how guns are getting into the hands of teenagers. To that end, the SPPD will use new technology to coordinate efforts across agencies to track firearms. Axtell said the U.S. Department of Justice has awarded SPPD a $750,000 grant to expand the use of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Gun violence in U.S. cities — including St. Paul — is an untenable reality that demands more research and a swift and comprehensive community and law enforcement response.