The Potluck

St. Paul police chief Axtell to step down in June

By: - October 27, 2021 12:47 pm

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell announced Wednesday he will step down in June after 32 years with the department and 5.5 years as chief, rather than seek a second six-year appointment. 

Axtell started working for the department in 1989, rising through the ranks from patrol to investigative and administrative assignments before being appointed chief in June 2016.

In a Facebook post, Axtell said, “The police officers with whom I’ve worked over the past three decades have shown me that there is nothing more noble in life than answering the call to serve.”

“No matter the pain you see people inflict on others, the innocent victims left physically and emotionally battered by violence, the vitriol or the constant calls for help, they keep coming back to serve a city they care about in their souls,” he wrote.

He said serving as police chief and leading “the best officers and civilians in the country” has been his greatest professional honor. 

He said it’s time to serve the community in another manner, which will likely fuel speculation about elected office: “One of the lessons my parents taught me was that a life well lived is a life dedicated to something greater than yourself. I still have a lot of years left to dedicate to being in service to others. The deep desire to make a positive difference still courses through my veins.”

He said he announced his decision now to give the city time to select a new chief.

His priorities as chief were addressing gun violence, diversifying the department at all ranks and engaging the community. 

St. Paul police and Axtell’s stewardship of the department were often compared favorably to the bigger city to the west, which has been beset with lawsuits, disability claims and misconduct allegations, including the police murder of George Floyd. 

According to the department’s public information office, Axtell increased the number of Asian officers by 47%, Black officers 80%, Latino officers 50% and American Indian officers 100% (from four to eight).

He released 15 years of traffic stop data in 2016; launched the 21st Century Policing Report on best practices in 2017; for the first time in department history released a comprehensive use-of-force report in 2019 and launched the department’s body camera program. 

He also recorded a 20-year low in payouts for police misconduct, decommissioned the motors and mounted units and secured more than $2 million in donations for programs, according to the department. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.