Thought Police

The Pioneer Press reports that St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has instructed Police Chief Todd Axtell to cut $9.2 million from the city’s 2021 police budget as it wrestles with a shortfall projected to range between $19 million and $34 million due to costs related to COVID-19 and the George Floyd riots.

Carter argues that cuts to the police budget mirror the same percentage that he has levied on other departments.

But there’s a good bet that St. Paul’s nervous neighborhoods will question whether Carter should impose “equal” spending cuts. Safeguarding people and property, they’ll say, arguably represents the essential function of government, especially these days, and should get more of the dollars to maintain law and order. A city that fails to fulfill that obligation is a failed city.

The numbers show that St. Paul’s already under-funded police are struggling to keep a lid on disorder.

By the end of July 2020, Carter’s city had already endured 19 homicides, up 46 percent from last year’s record-setting pace. The nearby chart illustrates that in those first seven months, St. Paul experienced as many homicides as in all of 2010 and 2016 and more than in the entirety of six of the previous 10 years.

Mayor Carter is willing to have fewer police officers, but he wants to keep a newly hired political director among the city’s ranks. The Star Tribune recently reported that Jon Grebner, a former political organizer at AFSCME Council 5, continues to pull down some $110,000 per year from the police budget.

What is the point of this hire?

City council member Chris Tolbert explained it like this to the Star Tribune: “In the midst of a pandemic…having people who have the ability to communicate on behalf of the mayor with trust is a really important thing, not just to the council but to the entire city.”

So, while St. Paulites can do without cops, they cannot, apparently, do without the mayor’s opinions.