Report: St. Paul Police, Dispatchers Experiencing Serious Staffing Shortage
"Each year it gets busier and busier and busier, and 911 calls keep coming in," Chief Todd Axtel told city council members. "It's simple math: more people living here, more people visiting here, we're going to have a higher demand for police services."
By Liz Sawyer
A St. Paul Police Department staffing study -- which can be reviewed in full below -- recommends hiring more than 100 additional officers and civilian staff, as well as restructuring several investigative units to keep pace with growing caseloads.
The 250-page document compiled by Cmdr. Jack Serier examined department data and statistics between 2013 and 2018, including response times and 911 calls over the six-year period. It's the first comprehensive audit of its kind in at least a decade and comes at the request of the City Council.
Among his findings, Serier emphasizes the need for increased staffing across the board. He suggests adding 78 sworn personnel, including 33 sergeants, and another 25 full-time civilian employees to fill administrative roles -- a costly request that isn't likely to receive much support from City Hall.
We're working extremely hard to meet the demands of our community," Serier said during an interview. "It's not about making a model to give you every bell and whistle you want. This is a model that adequately addresses the needs today."
The report did not include cost estimates associated with the recommendations, but Serier said each additional police officer requires approximately $90,000 to $110,000 for salary and benefits.
Most suggestions were made with efficiency in mind, Serier said. One streamlining measure would involve splintering the homicide division into four separate units. Right now, homicide detectives are stretched thin juggling murder investigations alongside aggravated assaults, shootings and kidnappings.
"Some egregious crimes assigned to the Homicide Unit cannot be properly addressed due to the frequency of homicide investigations," wrote Serier, a longtime law enforcement official and former Ramsey County sheriff.
At a time of unprecedented gun violence in the capitol city, he believes homicide detectives should be solely focused on death investigations. The department could achieve that, he said, by establishing three new units: one for cold cases, another for robberies and kidnappings, and a Violent Crimes Against Persons Unit dedicated to assaults and nonfatal shootings.
Last fall, Chief Todd Axtell reiterated a plea to City Hall for more resources to keep up with service calls.
"Each year it gets busier and busier and busier, and 911 calls keep coming in," Axtell told council members at the time. "It's simple math: more people living here, more people visiting here, we're going to have a higher demand for police services."
Between 2013 and 2018, the study shows, the number of 911 calls in St. Paul rose 31 %. In 2018, more than 5,000 high-priority 911 calls could not be dispatched within 30 seconds because not enough officers were available to respond."
But Mayor Melvin Carter's 2020 budget reduced the maximum number of sworn officers from 635 to 630, after staffing increases in both 2018 and 2019. Instead of funding more officers or gunshot-detection technology, Carter proposed an additional $1.7 million for youth employment and outreach, recreation center programs and streetscape improvements.
The department now has 608 officers on its payroll, 570 of whom are available to work, the study says, noting that the number of officers fluctuates due to retirements, vacations, military deployments and parental leave.
Serier is expected to present his findings to the City Council on Feb. 26. After that, he expects the conversation to shift back to the community.
"What kind of levels of service do we want from our police department?" he said. "And if compromises are part of that, what are willing to go without?"
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