Paul Kuntz: Prioritize public safety, keep every St. Paul police officer in the budget, continue to diversify the force

Providing for public safety is a primary role of government and what our community expects and deserves. Every person — every single person — deserves to be safe.

The St. Paul Police Federation supports a city budget that prioritizes public safety and provides justice for victims of crime by maintaining, at a minimum, our current police staffing levels in 2021.

Reducing the police force next year by 41 officers, as proposed, is dramatic and dangerous. It will delay or deny assistance and justice to crime victims and would bring the number of officers to 2007 levels.

First, our city is facing increased levels of crime, violence, and calls for service, which makes it even more critical for leaders to provide resources for officers to serve the community. If we compare all of 2019 to about half of 2020 so far (January-August), homicides have increased 57%. Aggravated assaults (with a weapon) are up 39%. Arsons are up 83%, and burglaries at businesses are up 72%. Shots fired (called “discharge” by law enforcement) are up 130%.

This should not — and cannot — continue in our city. Chief Axtell explained in his address to the City Council last week that reduced service levels will increase wait times for those needing police services, reduce investigative capacity and allow for fewer prevention efforts.

This denies victims of crime the justice they deserve. Investigative officers have exceeded recommended case volume per officer by 100%. The number of days sex crimes cases are closed is up 100%. Officers also review 3,600 cases of possible child abuse per year. With fewer officers, this will only increase the workload and decrease justice for victims of crime.

Second, our police levels can already be considered understaffed. Last year’s special police staffing report recommended 103 more officers to meet community expectations and national guidelines. We certainly cannot go backward.

Third — and very importantly — citizens we interact with every day have been telling us they want a police force that reflects the diversity of the city. A policy decision to not replace departing officers with a diversity of new officers goes against the work we’ve done to keep up with the size and changing demographics of our city’s population.

St. Paul’s police officers have done terrific work to evolve to meet the needs of our community. Many of the policy changes in the news lately have already been focused on in St. Paul. For example, the department has created and is successfully using a team of mental-health experts to respond to those in crisis, revised our “use of force” policy, increased training on implicit bias, and greatly increased data transparency of police calls/stops.

Some have suggested replacing police officers with civilians to “lighten the load.” The practicality of this comes down to the details. Real safety, training, suspect privacy and more require much further discussion and thought. The amount of training and accountability our St. Paul law enforcement officers have is something our community expects and deserves.

Officers in the St. Paul Police Department strive every day to support residents and businesses that make our city a great place to live and visit. The SPPD and our organization, the St. Paul Police Federation, are strongly committed to improved and more relevant training to meet the needs and wants of the community.

We will continue to advocate for ability to replace officers to keep the police staffing, minimally, at the same level in 2021 that we have in 2020. With increased population and increased crime, it doesn’t make sense to decrease the staffing levels of police when our community needs public safety services now more than ever. Let’s keep moving in the direction of increased community safety, justice for victims of crime, a more diverse department, for everyone in St. Paul.

Paul Kuntz is president of the St. Paul Police Federation, the union that represents St. Paul police officers.


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