MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell announced on Wednesday that he won’t be seeking a second term in June 2022.

In a Facebook post, Axtell said that the decision was made after “deep reflection” over the last few months.

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“I trust my instincts. I believe in the women and men of the SPPD. And I know that it’s time to move on to serve my community in another manner,” Axtell said.

Axtell said “this isn’t goodbye” and much work still needs to be done.

In an interview with WCCO-TV earlier in October, Axtell addressed crime in the city, including the mass shooting inside the popular bar Seventh Street Truck Park near Xcel Energy Center.

“We have not given up, the officers in this department have not given up,” he said. “We are so passionate within the St. Paul Police Department to make sure we do everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening in the future. And if we have to step on some toes and hurt some feelings while we do that, so be it.”

Axtell also said that staffing levels are an issue for the police force.

“I’m not allowed with the current staffing levels that we have to consistently get our officers the time off that they need,” Axtell said. “And when we have tired officers, that’s when mistakes happen.”

Police Chief Todd Axtell speaks with WCCO (credit: CBS)

When it comes to sharing his thoughts on crime in his community, Axtell often turns to social media. But the emotional words he typed out on Facebook were instead a long and eventual goodbye to the department he’s led for 5.5 years, as well as the badge he’s worn for more than three decades.

Dora Jones-Robinson leads the anti-violence group Guns Down St. Paul, as well as a mentorship program. Both were heavily involved with local police. She says the announcement “kind of took the wind out of me.”

“[Police] been engaging themselves with the young people. With every event that I gave, they were there supporting it. Chief Todd Axtell was there interacting and engaging,” Jones-Robinson said. “So our journey with him has been really a positive affirmation that our police officers are human.”

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Even those who scrutinize local law enforcement feel Chief Axtell positively impacted the department’s culture. Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality pointed to reforms on use-of-force policy and how arbitration is handled for discipline as important changes under Axtell’s tenure.

“I think he’s been very good in terms of, you know, trying to keep his officers from engaging in conduct that angers the community,” Gross said. “But at the same time he has come to defend his officers, and we’ve definitely seen him do that.”

While she feels Axtell had success as an internal hire, she hopes the next chief comes from beyond the department’s walls.

Chief Todd Axtell (credit: CBS)

“I think you bring in a different set of eyes, a new culture, someone who isn’t as embedded in the way things are and can therefore see the way things could be,” Gross said.

Jones-Robinson would prefer Axtell’s successor comes from within, someone who knows the community well and the “temperature of the city.” Most importantly, she hopes current officers stay motivated.

“I know sometimes when you lose your boss that you like and respect, it kind of brings the morale of the department down,” Jones-Robinson said. “I want him to keep the morale up, keep them working, keep them trying to figure out how to keep making our city safe.”

Mayor Melvin Carter and Chief Axtell have often sparred over budget disagreements, but the Mayor spoke fondly of the departing chief in a statement he released Wednesday afternoon:

With our 15 years as friends and collogues, Chief Axtell & I share a common belief on how our officers can be a positive force in our community, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made together.

Under his leadership, our police department today responds more quickly to most 911 calls, uses force less frequently, clears a higher percentage of cases with an arrest, and suffers fewer injuries to both officers & civilians.

While his presence will be greatly missed, I thank Chief Axtell for his lifetime of service to Saint Paul, congratulate him on his decision, and wish him well in his future endeavors.

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