Ecolab, Securian CEOs urge Carter to take stronger stand against downtown crime – Twin Cities

Following the deadly shooting at the Seventh Street Truck Park bar last weekend, the chief executive officers of Securian Financial and Ecolab are urging St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter to take a bolder stand against crime, especially downtown.

“The city of St. Paul is hurting,” Ecolab CEO Christophe Beck wrote in a letter to the mayor on Tuesday.

Christopher Hilger, chairman, president and CEO of Securian Financial, implied that without a stronger response from the city, Securian — the city’s largest private downtown employer — might not ask its employees to return from working remotely.

“Our ability to encourage our employees to return to our corporate offices after working from home for 18 months during the pandemic heavily depends on how they feel about the safety and vitality of downtown St. Paul,” Hilger wrote in a separate letter to the mayor on Tuesday.

Securian sent copies of Hilger’s letter to members of the St. Paul City Council and Police Chief Todd Axtell.

MAYOR TAKES TOUGH QUESTIONS ON CRIME IN RUN-UP TO ELECTION

Carter, who is up for re-election on Nov. 2, attended a League of Women Voters candidate forum on Tuesday, where he took tough questions from his challengers about the city’s rising homicide rate. The forum was televised live by the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, a cable access station.

He appeared Monday on WCCO-AM’s Chad Hartman podcast, where he responded to an audio clip of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher saying that St. Paul police need more staff in order to respond to a near-record number of homicides this year. The death of bystander Marquisha Wiley, 27, at the Seventh Street Truck Park was the city’s 32nd documented killing, putting the city on pace to surpass the grim 1992 record of 34 homicides, which was tied last year.

Last month, Axtell himself told council members that his officers are being pushed to the brink — he said they haven’t had the funding to hire new officers since 2019 and they’ve seen more officers leaving the department than normal. He requested $3.1 million from the city for next year’s budget to fill vacant positions.

Carter told Hartman that officers arrived on the West Seventh Street shooting scene almost instantaneously and two suspects are charged and in custody.

“Short of martial law, it is not clear to me how one, 100 or 1,000 police officers would have changed what happened on Saturday night,” Carter said.

The early Sunday shooting at the bar and food hall near Xcel Energy Center left Wiley dead and 14 others injured. Among the injured were two men who have been charged with engaging in a gun battle precipitated by a personal dispute.

AUTHORIZED STRENGTH OF POLICE FORCE

The mayor, who has called for street ambassadors and other alternative public safety outreach, has authorized $1 million for police overtime, specifically targeted to downtown patrols. Some critics have noted that even after a new police academy, it will take at least nine months before those recruits are street-ready.

Former Ramsey County Commissioner Dino Guerin, who works for Fletcher and will appear on the November mayoral ballot, is among those calling for two police academies per year.

“I’m not asking for more cops,” St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m asking us to fill the authorized strength that we’re budgeted for of 620 (sworn officers). We’re around 560 and dropping right now. Every year, we should have a spring or fall academy so we don’t have a steep drop in attrition.”

Said Beck, the Ecolab CEO, in his letter: “For employers committed to downtown St. Paul, public safety needs to be a priority. We need to effectively assure our employees that downtown St. Paul is safe.”

CRIME STATISTICS FOR DOWNTOWN ST. PAUL

Statistically, at least, crime in downtown had actually abated this summer to a five-year low, according to an organization promoting the city’s commercial core.

After the height of the coronavirus pandemic last summer, crime across six downtown areas, or “grids,” fell 23 percent this summer, the St. Paul Downtown Alliance announced last month. Both Securian and Ecolab are members of the Downtown Alliance.

The decreased crime numbers came after “a combination of a lot of different resources,” including $1 million in police overtime, social services for the increased number of people who were homeless and “significant efforts” by the city and county to find shelter for them, and continued coordination among various agencies, said Joe Spencer, the Downtown Alliance president.

After 2,260 police calls downtown for serious and quality-of-life calls in June, July and August last year, the number fell to 1,748 this summer.

Outside of downtown, a separate analysis of two grids along West Seventh Street documented 112 serious crimes such as thefts and assaults from January through September of this year, which is about 22 percent higher than the six-year average.

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