ST. PAUL (WCCO) — The City of St. Paul is counting on a group of business, law enforcement and community leaders to re-envision emergency response in the city.

Crime and calls for service have increased substantially this year in the capitol city. So far in 2020, 1,900 shots have been fired, and 30 people have lost their lives.

The Community-First Public Safety Commission will focus on alternative first-response options to calls for service that can free up officers so they can focus on responding and preventing crime.

“We’re working hard to get in front of this. We’re working hard with our partners,” St. Paul Police spokesperson Steve Linders said.
That work will now include the launch of the safety commission.

A 40-person commission led by business leaders from Xcel Enegry and the Greater Twin Cities United Way will workin collaboration with the Citizen League.

“St. Paul will engage a broad array of voices from across our community — business voices, law enforcement voices, community voices, youth voices, government voices, all working together to rethink how we respond to 911 calls in a way that ensures our officers can remain available to respond to crisis when we need them most,” Mayor Melvin Carter III said.

The commission will focus on how to react to less serious calls for help, like barking dogs and loud music.

“We’re talking about priority-four and priority-five 911 calls and there are certainly other opportunities in those categories to be thoughtful about some of those calls,” Chief Todd Axtell said.

St. Paul has already made big strides in its push to change public safety, like increasing online reporting for low level crimes and starting a co-responding model with mental health professionals working with police.

“I really and deeply believe in order for this commission to succeed it must be centered on including especially families and individuals who have been harmed by not just police violence and harassment but also decades of disinvestment,” St. Paul City Council-member Mitra Jilani said.

Boots on the ground organizations in St. Paul say they hope to get the invite to have a seat at the table to discuss how to chart a course forward.

Carter says too many communities in the rest of the country get stuck in this community or police dialogue, something he says St. Paul residents know is a false choice. He hopes to name people to the commission and have the results of its work in six months.

Reg Chapman