St. Paul was shaken on Friday, the day after a man was stabbed to death in the capital in the 35th murder of the year.
The assassination, which began over a parking lot dispute on the 1700 block on East 7th Street on the East Side, left leaders with more questions than answers as St. Paul attempts to tackle a surge in crime mirrored across the country.
“The worst thing about my job is that someone in this town has lost their life,” said Mayor Melvin Carter on Friday. “And this year I got this message more than any mayor in the history of our city. It’s traumatic. It’s heartbreaking.”
Thursday’s murder took place as Carter prepared to begin his second term – and look for a new police chief. Chief Todd Axtell announced in October that he would not seek reappointment.
Carter has campaigned for a since he took office in 2018 “Community First” Approach public safety by launching a range of programs to address the root causes of crime, such as poverty, which exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Paul’s population has grown in recent years, meaning the city’s per capita murder rate is below historic records. The mayor’s critics argued, however, that the police force was not reinforced to serve the larger population – a point Axtell made in a plea for money to hire more officials in 2022.
“It’s a sad day, but it’s not surprising,” said Mark Ross, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, on Friday. “If we had been full, I don’t think we would have reached that number.”
Brian Harry Kjellberg, 50, was arrested Friday morning and assigned to the Ramsey County Jail for the second degree murder in the death of 27-year-old Arnell J. Stewart of Georgia. The victim was identified by the Ramsey County Coroner.
Amid historical gun violence in 2020, St. Paul set a record of 34 murders from 1992.
City police responded to 2,326 reports of shots fired last year, more than double the 2019 total. And shots hit at least 220 people – the first time St. Paul topped 200 gunshot casualties in a year. In 2021, 219 were shot injured so far.
Across the river, Minneapolis is nearing a record no one wants to break. A fatal shooting on Wednesday night on the North Side marked the 93rd murder that year, according to the Star Tribune database. That’s only four fewer than the record of 97 set in 1995, during a period that earned the city the shameful nickname “Murderapolis”.
The rise in gun violence is not limited to the Twin Cities. Most of the major metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Chicago and Portland, Oregon, have seen a surge in killings amid the pandemic and nationwide unrest over the high-profile murders of black Americans, including George Floyd.
St. Paul City Council president Amy Brendmoen, whose community also witnessed murders that year, said any murder is unbearable for families and the community.
“My feeling,” she said, “is that people are sad and also exhausted by the number of senseless deaths we’ve seen this year – here and nationwide.”
City Councilor Jane Prince, who represents the East Side, said the news of Stewart’s death was devastating and demoralizing of the neighborhood. This area – and St. Paul as a whole – urgently needs more police officers, Prince said.
“The mayor has said for years that we need a data-driven public safety strategy and it seems he feels we are moving towards it,” she said. “Until these programs are in place and working or achieving something, we must rely on our police force to fight the growing crime in our neighborhood.”
The police chief and others have described St. Paul officials as exhausted and overworked, who often rely on overtime. St. Paul has 554 sworn officers and 61 recruits who will be fully trained by July, said Sgt. Natalie Davis, a police spokeswoman.
âEvery person killed this year has left loved ones behind. Their deaths left scars on our community and it’s tough for our officials to take these deaths personally, “said Davis. “We want everyone to know that we are doing everything we can to interrupt these cycles of violence and to bring justice to the victims and their families.”
In his 2022 budget proposal, Carter included funding some of the civil servant positions vacated during the pandemic and for the city’s Law Enforcement Career Path Academy, a program aimed at diversifying police lines and previously funded primarily through grants. His plan was to allocate $ 120.8 million, about 17% of the city’s total budget, to police in 2022.
“We are investing in the police,” said the mayor on Friday. “But we also see very clearly that a public safety approach that just focuses on getting here as soon as possible after someone is shot or something terrible happens is not the kind of proactive public safety outcomes that we want. “
Carter said he has not yet decided whether to accept a $ 3.75 million grant from the Department of Justice to fund part of the salaries of 30 civil servants for the next three years – the rest would City finance. He said he was “concerned about the prospect of making such a huge long-term budgetary commitment without the level of transparency we apply to every other aspect of our budget”.
New and future programs should reduce the incidents that require police intervention, Carter said, and give officers more time to focus on criminal investigations.
“I think this is one of those areas – there are many in life – where the best way to get short-term results is to move towards the long-term results we need,” he said.