MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 200 residents packed St. Paul’s Mt. Olivet Baptist Church Wednesday night to talk about solutions to violence in the city.

At least three people have been killed in just the first three weeks of the new year.

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At one point in Wednesday night’s meeting, Rev. James Thomas called out to attendees to raise their hands if they’ve been to a vigil or funeral of someone who died a violent death. Most in the crowd raised their hands.

“This outbreak of violence is something that everybody’s astonished about. It’s very traumatic for us as a community, and for us as a city,” Thomas said.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell says violent crime overall has actually decreased in the city, but homicides have increased.

“I can tell you that there are about 35 to 40 smaller gangs in our city,” Axtell said.

(credit: CBS)

There were 30 murders in St. Paul in 2019 — a 100% increase from 2018. It was also a record year for gun violence.

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“I know that the common denominator of violence in our city in 2019 was guns in the hands of young people,” Axtell said.

There was debate over whether or not this city should invest in ShotSpotter gunfire detection technology. Mayor Melvin Carter says he is still not convinced it’s necessary.

“You won’t find a statement or a quote from me opposing the technology. What you’ll find is a lot of questions from me,” Carter said.

But most on the panel, including Chief Axtell, want to see ShotSpotter in St. Paul.

“I can tell you my colleagues throughout the country and throughout the world wouldn’t want to do their job without ShotSpotter technology,” Axtell said.

But residents say they don’t want to debate — they want results.

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One thing echoed by several attendees at Wednesday night’s meeting was that you can’t arrest your way out of problem like this. There needs to be a holistic solution to solve the city’s violent crime dilemma.

Erin Hassanzadeh