St. Paul, Minnesota, Police Chief Todd Axtell recently warned the mayor’s office that without a more competitive labor contract, the police department is at risk of losing officers to agencies with more attractive offers.
“My fear is that if we can’t compete with other agencies, we’ll continue to see the unraveling of what is and has been a premier law enforcement destination agency,” Axtell wrote in a two-page letter to Mayor Melvin Carter.
The chief added that given the current staffing shortage, the department cannot afford to lose more officers.
“Right now, we are down nearly 100 officers from our authorized strength of 619 sworn personnel,” Axtell wrote.
Axtell fears that without a new and improved labor contract, the department will continue to suffer from poor retention as officers go to “other agencies that offer higher wages and more robust benefits.”
The St. Paul Police Department’s labor contract officially expired more than a year ago.
Therefore, officers must work under the terms of the previous contract until a new agreement is negotiated and settled. The contract is outdated compared to what other agencies offer.
According to Axtell, the Maple Grove Police Department recently approved a new contract to boost base wages by 3% annually, in addition to a 10% general increase.
The Minnesota State Legislature also recently increased the top wage for the Minnesota State Patrol by more than 10%. According to Axtell, the capital city is not staying up to date with the current labor market.
“As a matter of fact, this morning I met with an officer who just left the SPPD for another jurisdiction offering more money,” the chief wrote. “This is something I have not experienced in my 33 years working for the SPPD.”
Axtell warned that the department’s staffing shortage and low retention may have a negative impact on public safety.
“Because we’re losing so many officers, we’ve seen our capacity to connect with the community, engage in innovative crime prevention efforts and give victims the attention they deserve diminish,” Axtell said. “Sadly, I don’t see this trend changing any time soon.”
Axtell said he will not seek a second four-year term as police chief when his contract expires in June.
Mayor Carter responded that the timing for adding to the police budget is not good.
“It’s a challenge, particularly because we aren’t in a budget cycle. I certainly wish the chief would have brought forth this spending request in a budget cycle in the form of a budget proposal,” Carter said.
According to an article in the Pioneer Press, city officials have been hesitant to allocate greater funding to police following the “defund the police” movement. Officials argue that there are more pressing areas than public safety that need funding.
Officials also note that the city’s revenue has shrunk during the pandemic due to dropping parking meter revenues and lower sales tax rates, even in lieu of federal emergency aid money. The St. Paul Police Department’s general budget sits at more than $104 million, which is nearly a third of the city’s annual $344 million general fund budget.
The City Council held a closed-door session last month to discuss contract negotiations.
“That process is underway,” Council President Amy Brendmoen said of the contract negotiations. She also promised that police staffing shortages would be addressed with more police recruits.
“The council sent a strong message this year that we want to level out our staffing, and the first thing was having two police academies for 2022,” Brendmoen said. “They just announced the first one.”