ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter proposed a nearly $3 million public safety initiative Wednesday, which includes starting a public health project for violence prevention and intervention.
The overall plan focuses on young people, including adding community ambassadors to connect with them and expanding a youth employment program. The supplemental budget proposal for next year does not add police officers.
Nearly $1.7 million in the proposal comes from city funds, and the remainder from prospective grants and other funds. If approved by the St. Paul City Council on Dec. 11, the property tax levy would increase 5.85 percent, up 1 percentage point from Carter’s initial budget proposal.
The proposal comes in the midst of a rash of gun violence in St. Paul. There have been 29 people killed this year, the most in more than 20 years in the city.
While Carter said none of the proposals represent a panacea, he added that he’s confident they’re the most comprehensive approach to public safety the city has taken.
“We need a fundamentally new approach,” Carter told the city council. “Even with a strong police department that leads locally and nationally on so many fronts, we cannot expect our police officers alone to solve all of our problems. … It starts in the home and with the parents and with our families. We have to do a better job raising and investing in our youth to grow to be hopeful, productive members of our community.”
YOUTH ARE FOCUS OF INITIATIVES
The proposals for next year, according to Carter’s presentation, include:
Investing $300,000 to start a Cure Violence initiative, which was founded in Chicago and has been used around the country to take a public-health approach to violence prevention, and the Healing Streets Project, a “community-centered” approach to group and gun violence.
Hiring 14 additional community ambassadors at a cost of $305,760. The ambassadors have been working in St. Paul to “guide youth to needed programs, services and employment” and have been credited with a reduction in youth arrests.
Allocating $200,000 for St. Paul’s Right Track to “recruit 55 young people who have had an interaction with the justice system” to take part in the youth employment program.
Keeping after-school and summer programming at recreation centers in St. Paul free, which would cost $225,000. Carter’s initial budget proposed a $5 daily fee for “Rec Check,” though students on free or reduced-price school lunch would have been exempt.
Adding a pedestrian safety engineer, based on data that a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle every 2½ days and a bicyclist is struck every five days in St. Paul.
The initiative includes a gun crime intelligence center, which the city already received a $750,000 federal grant for the police department to start. The center is intended to have a more coordinated response among local, state and federal agencies to solving gun crimes.
Regarding separate federal funding, Carter said Wednesday that he spoke with U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Erica MacDonald on Tuesday about the Cure Violence initiative and she “anticipates seeking to make that same amount of $300,000 (that was on the table for Group Violence Intervention) available to our city for our Cure Violence work,” though he noted it’s still pending.
Over the summer, after the Ramsey County attorney’s office staff wrote a grant proposal to start a Group Violence Intervention initiative, the county attorney didn’t apply for the federal funding for St. Paul because they wanted Carter to be on board.
CITY COUNCIL MEMBER RAISES SHOTSPOTTER QUESTIONS
City council members expressed support for Carter’s proposal, with Rebecca Noecker telling the mayor, “I have been hearing loud and clear from my constituents that they want us to act and they want us to act in a way that is proven to work, and that’s what I see the rationale being behind a lot of the proposals here.”
Council member Dai Thao raised questions about why the city isn’t pursuing ShotSpotter, a gunshot-detection tool. Police Chief Todd Axtell recently told Carter he had asked for state funding for ShotSpotter.
After a series of email exchanges, in which Carter told Axtell he hasn’t found conclusive evidence that ShotSpotter is an effective way to reduce gun violence, the police chief told the mayor last week he would “abandon the idea” to seek state funding for ShotSpotter and instead see about funding for an initiative to expedite DNA testing for gun crimes.
“The conversation that I have in my community, Frogtown, … they want more security, they want to make sure that we’re utilizing everything that we can,” Thao told Carter at Wednesday’s meeting. “… Here at this moment, we have an opportunity to do what’s right, to actually utilize all the tools that we need and that we have a hand to create peace of mind in our city.”
In a tense exchange, Thao asked the mayor, “Do you think that my kids are important to you?”
Carter responded, “Pursuing the perception of safety and buying technological toys … because someone told us … that it’s an effective way to prevent and reduce gun violence in our community is not enough. We as a community owe to it ourselves, we as a community owe it to your beautiful children that when we spend a million dollars on public safety investments that it actually makes us safer.”
Axtell said in a statement after the council meeting that he appreciates Carter “taking a long-term approach to addressing the root causes of gun violence in our city.”
“While I’m disappointed that we won’t be able to employ ShotSpotter in our efforts to address the immediate crisis our neighborhoods are facing on a daily basis, I will not let it deter us from working every day to protect the peace and maintain public safety through hard work, innovation, collaboration and trusted service with respect,” Axtell added.
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