McCollum Takes Aim at St. Paul PD’s Grant Request on Gun Violence

Perhaps U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) needs to get back to her home district in St. Paul more often. The longtime congresswoman recently took umbrage at the way St. Paul Police depicted the dangers on some city streets in an effort aimed at making the case for a $750,000 federal grant to crack down on gun play, according to the Star Tribune.

But the city’s bid has raised concerns from U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, one of several members of the Minnesota congressional delegation asked to support the grant last month by a lobbyist employed by ShotSpotter, a company that sells gunfire locator and gunshot detections systems nationwide.

McCollum took issue with how St. Paul and the Green Line are characterized in the grant application. In a July 19 e-mail to City Council members, Chief of Staff Bill Harper wrote that the application “paints a picture that our office feels is not reflective of the city and the people of St. Paul. Furthermore, the inaccurate manner in which the Green Line is characterized undermines the necessary work to advance transit funding.”

The message from McCollum’s top aide compared the cops’ description of St. Paul with President Trump’s blunt critique of inner city conditions across the country, a la Baltimore.

“The city of St. Paul and key neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from violent crime,” the application states. “Gun violence is increasingly being committed across city boundaries due in part to the recently opened Green Line, a light rail system that connects the region’s two downtowns, Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

While St. Paul PD tried to ratchet down the rhetoric to appease McCollum’s sensitivity to telling it the way it is, there’s no sugarcoating the increasing violence that confronts cops on the street.

[St. Paul Police Assistant Chief Robert] Thomasser said the department values its relationship with McCollum, whom he described as “a champion for St. Paul.”

“We certainly understand why the descriptions in the problem statement in the grant might be alarming to her,” Thomasser said. “Hearing about gun violence and gang activity and prostitution can be difficult, and it’s not our intention to paint the great city in a negative light.”

St. Paul officials would like to use the federal funding to upgrade the technology and other resources at their disposal, laying the infrastructure for a ballistics tracking system called ShotSpotter. More than 100 cities already field the system, including Minneapolis.

Council President Amy Brendmoen said Thursday that there are places in the city where ShotSpotter “would be really helpful.”

“When the police came and gave their annual report to us, what I heard them say was that in order for ShotSpotter to be an effective tool, that they needed the investigative work that goes on the back end of it,” she said. “I don’t think one without the other is particularly meaningful.”

Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are uncertain on whether to support the St. Paul PD’s grant request. Perhaps they might join Rep. McCollum in taking an overnight ride-along with police in order to help make up their minds.