SAINT PAUL, Minn. — National Night Out took on greater importance in the Twin Cities on Tuesday evening, as Minneapolis and St. Paul both search for permanent police chiefs while dealing with significant staffing shortages.
Saint Paul Police Interim Chief Jeremy Ellison, who has said he won't seek the permanent position to replace Todd Axtell, personally attended a National Night Out event on the city's west side and credited the community for helping his department solve crimes. The homicide clearance rate in St. Paul, he said, exceeds 90 percent.
"And it's due to the hard work of our police officers, having good connections in the community," Ellison said, "and folks having confidence in us."
National Night Out has been held in cities across the United States for decades, billed as an opportunity for police officers to connect with the people they serve. Those relationships have been challenged lately by staffing shortages, which are plaguing law enforcement agencies of all sizes.
In St. Paul, the police department currently has 566 sworn officers on duty, 63 short of the authorized strength of 619. However, Ellison said the department will look to hire about 28 officers through a police academy this summer and even has a second academy starting in December.
"The St. Paul Police Department has really put a priority on being able to respond to crimes, so the patrol force, we've made sure we have enough officers in there. So, when someone calls 911, we have the officers to respond," Ellison said. "We've reduced other units, in order to be able to make sure we have the resources where we need them."
The staffing situation is more dire in neighboring Minneapolis. As of the latest totals earlier this summer, the department had 564 sworn officers, well short of the authorized strength (888), the budgeted total (756) and the total mandated by the city charter (731).
Danyale Potts-Cook, a National Night organizer on the north side of Minneapolis with Real Believers Faith Center, said Minneapolis Police usually stop by their event each summer because it's among the most lively.
She sees National Night Out as an opportunity for improvement on the part of MPD.
"Just improve as far as building together, working more with the community, more community policing," Potts-Cook said. "Building back that trust, where the community can actually trust the police, and feeling like they're protected and served."
In addition to staffing shortages, the search for police chiefs also loomed over National Night Out.
Minneapolis has said it hopes to have a permanent chief in place by the end of the summer, while St. Paul just extended its application deadline to this Friday.
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