ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — St. Paul’s police chief is receiving praise for his part in saving a woman’s life this week.

Chief Todd Axtell assisted two officers who came to the aid of a woman sitting on the edge of a bridge Tuesday.

A city camera perched above the scene captured video of the moment the police chief grabbed the suicidal woman, and then attempted to console her.

On Wednesday, Chief Axtell told our Angela Davis why this moment captures the importance of mental health training for officers. At a memorial service honoring the 32 St. Paul Police officers who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty, St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell reflected on what it means to protect and serve.

Sometimes it means saving people from themselves.

At around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the chief realized he was driving just a couple of blocks away from a crisis.

“I heard over the radio there was a lady in distress, dangling over the edge of the Robert Street Bridge,” Chief Axtell said.

Officers Frank Judge and Gao Vang were already there. Together they move in closer, talking to the young woman, before pulling her to safety.

“She’s a younger lady and she’s about the same age… when I saw her sitting on the ledge… as my daughter. That really touches you deeply when you see someone that’s in distress, that needs help,” the chief said.

We asked what he said to her in the moment.

“We are comforting her. We understand that people struggle with mental illness, depression every day in this community,” he said.

Last year, Chief Axtell also made headlines for what happened as he was driving to work one morning.

“I was very close to work when I saw a man throw a woman to the ground and start to punch her. I was in a position where I was able to intervene, bring him into custody until officers arrived. We brought him to jail,” he said, adding, “But again, these are things our officers do every day. We all get into this job because we all want to be street cops.”

The St. Paul Police Department recently created a mental health unit that has specially trained officers who respond to crises. The chief says all of his officers go through crisis intervention training.


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