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This article was submitted by Edward J. "Ed" Steenberg, Saint Paul Police Historical Society

National COPS Evaluation of St. Paul: 2000

Catherine Coles
Research Associate
Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University

Case Study Prepared for the Urban Institute


Saint Paul Police Chief William K. (Corky) Finney was appointed to head the Saint Paul Police Department in July 1992. Born in the City and a lifelong resident, Finney had served for twenty-one years in SPPD, as a patrol officer, investigator, community projects leader, Director of Training, and executive officer. Finney came up in a Department in which the seeds of community policing were planted during the 1970s in the form of decentralized team policing. From the mid-seventies through the 1980s, team policing waxed and waned as City finances rose and fell in Saint Paul, but it never died out. Instead, it emerged as community policing beginning in the late 1980s, developing formally under Chief Finney's administration during the 1990s.

Saint Paul's long and continuous involvement in team, and then community, policing can be traced in large part to its strong neighborhoods: for decades, citizens have identified with small, yet distinctive neighborhood areas, often comprised of only a few blocks—Railroad Island, Como Park, Saint Anthony Park, the lower east side. The Department itself is a tightly knit force with a high percentage of officers who have lived in Saint Paul and worked in the Department for their entire professional lives. Generations of officers in families, relatives within extended families, trained volunteers who contribute hundreds of hours a year, and active civilian employees all contribute to a Department that is rooted in and reflects the City's neighborhoods. Today, policing remains neighborhood-centered: patrol and many investigative functions are decentralized, carried out from three district stations, four substations, and twelve storefront offices throughout the City. As neighborhoods have changed demographically, SPPD has worked to build partnerships with new residents: the second largest Hmong community (from Southeast Asia) in the country is in Saint Paul, with many living in public housing; recently the City has opened its doors to families on welfare seeking to leave Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit for a better life in Saint Paul. Community policing as a strategy has flourished in Saint Paul because of the "fit" between team and community policing, and this evolving neighborhood structure.

With the origins of community policing in Saint Paul firmly rooted in the Department's experiments with neighborhood policing and subsequent move into team policing during the 1970s, the fundamental ethos and guiding principles learned by patrol officers early on served the same officers well as they moved into supervisory and even upper management positions during the 1980s and 1990s. It was not one, two, or even three officers who led Saint Paul into community policing; rather, there were many in SPPD who found the transition a natural one given their experiences in policing locally. These supervisory and management staff were able to graft new technology and strategies onto a foundation of policing close to the ground, and problem solving, in neighborhoods. They faced no significant opposition, save that of budget constraints at various times.

Chief Finney, as one of the officers who rose to the top in SPPD, mirrors this transition. Unlike some other executive officers in the Department, Finney developed as both a top manager within SPPD, and a public figure with a following in the community. In five years as Chief, he has already left his mark, leading SPPD, with its decentralized orientation and new community-oriented programs, into formally adopting community-oriented policing. He has pushed SPPD further than previous administrations with a form of community policing that involves, in his own words, "opening up the Department," increasing substantially the opportunities for minorities and women to become sworn officers and for civilians to serve in SPPD, reaching out to new constituencies in the City, evidencing greater accountability and responsiveness to citizens.

But Finney, too, continues to carry out "policing by neighborhood:" in its current form, this has meant developing strategies that ask citizens, including the business community, to assume joint responsibility for public safety and crime reduction, while further tailoring the delivery of police services through the creation of Neighborhood Service Areas. As neighborhoods make claims on the Department, and as crime patterns change around the City, SPPD has had to struggle with how to allocate resources: for example, Saint Paul's public housing projects have become models recognized nationwide for their high standards and low incidence of crime; at the same time, criminal activity appears to be climbing on the east side of town, challenging police to think about whether they should open new storefronts and substations, and close others.

The Context for Policing in Saint Paul

Saint Paul, Minnesota, grew up during the nineteenth century as a frontier town near Fort Snelling, situated at the upper terminus of the Mississippi River boat trade. Early on it attracted tradesmen, merchants, and settlers on their way West, and served the nearby logging industry. Originally called "Pig's Eye" after the nickname of its first settler, trader Pierre Parrant, it was renamed in 1841 by Father Lucian Galtier when he built the first church. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the City's growth paralleled that of the railroad, as Saint Paul became a distribution center.

Today the capital of Minnesota, Saint Paul covers approximately fifty-five square miles on both sides of the Mississippi River, in Ramsey County, southeastern Minnesota. Adjacent to Minneapolis, it is part of a Twin Cities metropolitan region that in 1990 had a population of 2,464,124. The Saint Paul population was 272,235: 82.4% were White; 7.5% African American; 1.2% Native American; 7.0% Asian; and 1.9% other. Just under 4.0% of these racial groups was Hispanic in origin.

In the downtown commercial area, located to the north of a bend in the Mississippi, a well-developed skyway links major businesses, banks, hotels, and other institutions above ground level. Fifty to sixty thousand people flock into the City each day to work and shop in adjacent establishments. In many senses the skyway has replaced City streets as primary public thoroughfares—particularly during the harsh winter months. The City itself is a major road and air transportation hub, one of the largest trucking centers in the country, supports numerous industries (including printing, automotive assembly plants, the manufacture of electronic equipment, chemicals, abrasives, adhesives, refrigerators, foods, and construction equipment), and serves as a market center for grain and livestock. Along with Minneapolis, Saint Paul is also a cultural and educational center.

Saint Paul has a strong mayor/council form of government, with the mayor serving a four-year term. Current Mayor Norm Coleman, a Republican, was elected in 1993, and re-elected in 1997. Seven City Council members, representing specific wards, approximately equal in population, are elected for two-year terms.1 Saint Paul also contains seventeen planning districts, each represented by an elected council. The mayor is the chief executive officer of the City: he recommends appointments for department directors, and members of boards and commissions, and policies and budgets, for Council approval. The Council is a legislative body; it also monitors and maintains liaisons with community groups to ensure citizen participation; and it analyzes, adopts and oversees the city budget. The mayor has veto authority over Council action; however, the Council can override the mayor's veto with a five vote minimum.

A chief of police in Saint Paul is selected by the mayor and City Council: when the mayor announces a vacancy for the position, the City Council establishes a committee to assess candidates. Based upon its review and examination of applicants, the committee (sometimes referred to as a citizens' commission) prepares a short list of five candidates, from which the mayor appoints the Chief, subject to approval by the City Council. The term of office for the chief is determined by charter (giving the chief a stronger position than in many other settings):2 a one year probationary period is followed by a set term of five years, during which time s/he may be fired only for cause, and with the vote of five out of seven council members.

Current Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher is a former police lieutenant who commanded SPPD's Juvenile Unit. Widely acknowledged as a leader in juvenile programs, Fletcher maintains a close working relationship with the Department. Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, is recognized locally, and within SPPD, is seen in the City and Department as an innovative prosecutor, an advocate of collaborative community-oriented programs, and a willing partner in several SPPD projects. The County Attorney's Office has jurisdiction over the prosecution of felonies, while City Attorney Peg Birk and her office handle the prosecution of misdemeanors and ordinance violations, as well as conducting forfeiture actions with SPPD.

1 Elections are held in November of odd-numbered years. Six years ago the electoral system changed from city-wide to ward representation by council members.

2 Saint Paul City Charter Sec. 12.12.4.

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