By John Lauritsen

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Recent cases of violent crime in East St. Paul sparked a heated debate on Thursday night.

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Neighbors packed Arlington Hills Lutheran Church to voice their concerns to city leaders and law enforcement.

The community concerns stem from a mid-July shooting that claimed the life of 17-year-old Vincent Allison, and also after a group of people severely beat 26-year-old Ray Widstrand earlier this month.

“We shouldn’t have to put up with it,” St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said. “You shouldn’t have to put up with it. I guarantee you’ll see me here tomorrow night as well.”

Smith urged the city’s east side to unite. He told the crowd that he’s putting 30 more officers on the streets, along with bicycle patrols.

The added patrols are to help prevent an alarming trend. Since June 1, there have been seven incidents of street fights involving dozens of people.

Allison was killed in one of those fights, and Widstrand is clinging to his life after another. But more officers on the streets was not the answer some were looking for.

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“What are you going to do about those parents that let these kids run the streets?” shouted one resident. “I’m a responsible parent, why aren’t they?”

Another woman, who said she was recently a victim of crime near her home spoke up about her worries.

“I want to know what the police are going to make me trust you,” she said.

It’s a challenge that Smith said the department will respond to. But he said the public’s help is needed to make it happen.

“This is more than just the police department,” he said. “We are working with all our partners and I want to make that very clear.”

Smith said a lot of the larger fights are happening near transit stations.

He urged parents to check their children’s cell phones to see who they are talking to, and where they might be going.

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St. Paul police also plan on doubling their curfew enforcement efforts as a way to get youths off the streets at night.

John Lauritsen