After a man tried to break into six houses last week, on the seventh attempt he got into a St. Paul home where two people in their 70s were sleeping.
A neighbor witnessed the man cutting a screen and called police, who set up a perimeter and arrested a 38-year-old man as he ran from the Highland Park house.
Amid concern about crime in St. Paul, Assistant Chief Robert Thomasser told the City Council on Wednesday that the case was an example of what police are seeing with repeat offenders.
The man charged in the burglary was already going through the court process for two other cases he was previously charged with in Ramsey County and he has seven prior felony convictions. He remained jailed on Wednesday.
“We’re … chasing the same people over and over and over,” Thomasser said.
City Council President Amy Brendmoen said she and her colleagues asked the police to provide information at Wednesday’s meeting because council members are “all fully aware that there has been an increase in random crimes in the recent months, including particularly carjacking and robbery” and they also know “community members are understandably concerned.”
After serious crime was up 15 percent last year in St. Paul compared with 2019, this year is “off to a little bit of a concerning start,” Thomasser told council members. He said there have been 73 more serious crimes so far this year vs. the same period last year.
The situation in St. Paul isn’t unique — cities across the nation are also seeing crime increases during the coronavirus pandemic. Police Chief Todd Axtell is at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., now, talking to other police leaders about what they’re facing and how they’re responding.
FOCUS ON REPEAT OFFENDERS
Thomasser told the council that if there’s a night when a number of carjackings occur, the first thing investigators will do is look into who was released from jail the day before.
“That’s one of the things that we’re just noticing about the trends,” he said. ” … I don’t want to blame anybody for what’s going on. I think we’re all part of the system together.”
Because of concern about COVID-19 spreading in jail settings and then into the community, Ramsey County officials say they worked with local law enforcement to reduce the number of people booked into jail.
A planning initiative by Ramsey County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council bail reform committee was already underway, which allowed the county “to respond quickly to the pandemic and make informed decisions about who needs to be detained because they represent a serious threat to public safety and who can safely be released and supervised via tools like electronic home monitoring and probation staff,” according to a county website about the topic.
Court hearings have been happening using video technology and most jury trials are currently on hold during the pandemic.
As St. Paul has been able to partner with Ramsey County to address the dramatic increase of homelessness, Council Member Jane Prince said she wants to do the same about the criminal justice system.
“We have absolutely got to demand that everybody get out of their silos on these problems because we can’t have these dangerous people immediately going back on the street,” Prince said.
RESOURCES FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Council Member Mitra Jalali said it’s not surprising that, during a global pandemic, “crimes of desperation and crimes related to quarantine and the deterioration of the social systems we depend on to prevent these things are up.”
With 34 homicides in St. Paul last year, the city matched the previous record set in 1992. Police have said there were fewer gang-related homicides than 2019, but more instances of people being killed in family violence.
“To me, that’s not the case for adding officers or looking at how to be more punitive in our justice system,” Jalali said. “That’s … the logical fallout of what we’ve heard about all year with domestic violence and quarantine and the pressures on women who can’t get out. … What do we do to help folks get out of that? We should be funding those services.”
POLICE OFFER SAFETY TIPS
Council members also asked Thomasser how police are addressing crime. He said they’re sending extra officers to respond when there’s a carjacking or shooting to try to solve it, and also attempting to get ahead of problems by having officers out in neighborhoods that have been experiencing more crime.
The police department is challenged by having fewer officers, Thomasser said. There are 568 officers who are available to work, compared with 604 at this time last year, according to the police department.
In response to the pandemic’s fiscal challenges and to keep city property taxes flat, the City Council approved an austere 2021 budget. As a result, the police department has to hold vacant officer positions open.
“We’ve not accepted a defeatist attitude,” Thomasser said. “We are doing all we can.”
He urged people to be aware of their surroundings, not leave unattended vehicles running, get to know their neighbors and keep an eye out for them, and call police if they see suspicious activity.
— to www.twincities.com