St. Paul ponders new ways to handle public safety

Community First Public Safety Commission recommends addressing root causes of crime, plus handling lower-level calls and traffic stops differently

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A new neighborhood safety office and changes in how some police calls for service are handled are among key recommendations from St. Paul’s Community First Public Safety Commission.
St. Paul City Council members heard the commission’s recommendations on May 19, 2021, which follow a six-month study process facilitated by the Citizens League.
The 48-member commission was appointed last year by Mayor Melvin Carter. Council members hope to use the recommendations to help shape public safety in the city, and how that is supported.
The commission also looked at how to provide ongoing community involvement on the greater Community First Public Safety Program. The program includes efforts ranging from community ambassadors to healing circles. It seeks to approach crime prevention from the stance of addressing root causes of crime.
Citizens League Executive Director Kate Cimono said the commission members brought a wide range of backgrounds to their work. The commission held listening sessions and used other methods to gather information.
Focuses for the commission included ways to look at ways lower-level calls could be handled, other than simply by sending police. That not only could defuse some situations, it would also allow police to focus on higher-priority calls.
Another focus was police traffic stops, and how those should be addressed. That issue drew more attention after the death this spring of Daunte Wright. He was killed during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center. Some commission members said St. Paul should not do traffic stops except for more serious violations, such as DWIs, hit and run accidents and speeding.
The stops that would be eliminated are so-called “pretextual stops.” These stops may be for expired tabs, equipment violations or minor traffic violations. These stops can be used by law enforcement to legally investigate drivers.
The commission suggested use of red light cameras and mailed notices of violations. However, state law prohibits the cameras, also known as “photo cop.”

Citations idea to charter
commission
Could non-criminal citations be a way to address issues ranging from problem properties to dangerous dogs? The notion of administrative citations is en route to the St. Paul Charter Commission. The St. Paul City Council May 19 voted unanimously to seek Charter Commission review of the idea.
The Charter Commission study process could take a few months. The commission is likely to hold one or more public hearings, before sending a recommendation back to the city council.
The council and staff from the Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) have discussed the citations off and on for several years as a means on enforcing non-criminal matters. The city could use such fines in cases ranging from property code enforcement to owners of dangerous dogs to penalizing employers who don’t follow minimum wage or earned sick and safe time rules.
If the Charter Commission calls for the idea to go ahead, the City Council would work with city staff on a fine schedule.
Supporters of the administrative citation process say it could bring faster compliance, without putting someone in the position of having a criminal record. Critics contend it could be another way for the city to bring in revenue.
Adding the ability to administer such fines would mean amending the city charter. An amendment requires a unanimous council vote.
Information sessions on the citations were held earlier this year.

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