MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On the heels of what has been a historically high year for violence in St. Paul, with a homicide rate in 2019 doubling to 30 total, the Police Department has some good news to report.

According to Chief Todd Axtell, this year’s is the most diverse academy the department has seen in its 166 years.

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St. Paul is a department steeped in tradition since 1854, and the police academy’s graduation ceremony is an annual ritual. This year, tradition is making way for progress, thanks to a unique class of officers.

“I can’t even express in words how excited I am for this program how proud I am for this day for St. Paul,” Axtell said.

The day was made possible because of a program started from grant money that gives recruits stipends to live on.

“What we have done with our Career Path Academies is knocked down traditional barriers that have prevented people from becoming police officers, barriers such as young adults raising children, working two or three jobs, not having the financial ability to afford school,” Axtell said.

They also build relationships with kids from a young age.

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whose parents immigrated from Somalia – it was officers playing basketball with him when he was 13

Mahamed Dahir was one of 39 people standing in a moment of history. His parents immigrated from Somalia. He credits his interest back to when officers played basketball with him when he was 13.

“The way they’ve impacted my life, I feel I can do the same with someone else and maybe change someone else’s lives,” he said. “I still have a couple more phases to get through, but I’m going to do my best, the best I can.”

The police chief says diversity builds trust and tightens safety.

“The more confidence people have in police officers that are serving, the more diversity we have in the ranks that can connect to all corners of our community, the more likely we are to be able to solve those crimes,” Axtell said.

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It will be awhile before the officers are on their own. They have four more months of field training before they hit the streets.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield