In his first State of the City address since his re-election in November, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter offered a smart list of recommended uses for federal pandemic relief funds.
Carter wisely wants to focus on hiring more police, distributing gun safes, recovering from the pandemic, and working out a reasonable rent stabilization order.
The mayor’s proposals on public safety are welcome and relevant. St. Paul saw a record 38 homicides last year and had eight just eight weeks into 2022. And while Carter has seemed reluctant to increase the number of officers — favoring investments in prevention efforts instead than more cops – he rightly realizes the city needs to beef up its police department.
On Tuesday, Carter announced plans to use some of the $166 million St. Paul received from the U.S. Federal Bailout Act (ARP) to hire more officers. He said he also recommends that the city accept at least part of a $3.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help fund those salaries. And he plans to launch a second police academy later this year.
Rightly acknowledging the proliferation of stolen guns on the street, Carter said he would propose an ordinance that would require legal firearms to be locked, unloaded and stored separately from ammunition when not in the control of an owner. And it would allocate some of the ARP funds to buy and distribute safes to gun owners and make it harder for thieves to steal guns.
“It’s a sensible way for us to act at the local level to help keep illegal weapons off our streets, reduce the likelihood of them falling into the wrong hands or being used in ways counterproductive to the goals of our community,” said Carter, who has long advocated for tougher gun ownership laws.
Carter reiterated his vision for the non-law enforcement, community-first public safety programs he has emphasized during his tenure. He explained how the rise in violent crime and carjackings makes it necessary to invest in emergency response. And he said continued video evidence of “officer-involved shootings, high-speed chases and no-knock warrants keeps us grounded in our continued need for accountability and reform.”
This is consistent with the Star Tribune editorial board’s position that leaders in Minnesota’s largest cities must take an approach to both/and public safety. Longer-term crime prevention efforts are needed, as well as more immediate law enforcement strategies, including using more patrol officers.
Housing is another critical issue in St. Paul, and Carter said encouragingly he wants to move quickly to exempt new rental units from a voter-approved rent control measure. “We cannot afford to lose the thousands of housing units currently on hiatus while we wait for the bureaucratic processes at City Hall to take their course,” he said, referring to developers who said the vote prompted lenders to pull out of the projects.
Other plans for federal relief funds include an expansion of the city’s Guaranteed Income pilot project that would distribute monthly payments to 300 low-income families for two years. And Carter said he would extend Saturday hours at recreation centers and add ambassadors to patrol the city’s airways.
Carter has made sensible plans that address St. Paul’s major issues. As details are fleshed out, council and citizens are expected to support these efforts.