ST. PAUL — The hope and prayer cards usually handed out to patrons at St. Paul’s Hope Breakfast Bar — where they can write messages like, “My neighbor needs help with rent” — were being used by police as evidence markers on Tuesday morning, May 11.

They marked spots with footprints of burglars who forced their way into the restaurant and broke into a safe. Owner Brian Ingram said it was the sixth burglary at one of his businesses in less than six months.

Ingram called on St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, prosecutors and judges to take immediate steps, saying “catch and release” in the criminal justice system is “insanity.”

“We need you to stop talking about what you’re going to do in the future — I need you to talk about what you are going to do to help crime in our city right now,” Ingram said in a Facebook Live video. “My staff is scared. Our guests are scared, and I’m sick of being robbed. … We’ve lost thousands upon thousands of dollars.”

Carter’s focus on what he calls a “community-first” approach to public safety has included adding more youth outreach workers to the streets and expanding the city’s youth employment program. He’s also emphasized the need to take a public health approach to preventing violence.

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“The mayor has spoken extensively about our ground-breaking work to build the most comprehensive, coordinated and data-driven public safety system our city has ever endeavored; the national COVID crime wave of the last year makes clear that this work is more urgent than ever,” Peter Leggett, Carter’s communications director, said in a Tuesday statement.

Worried about safety of staff

Security video footage from Hope Breakfast Bar in the West Seventh neighborhood shows two men broke in at 4:07 a.m. Tuesday. They then forced their way into an office using what looked like sledge hammers and power tools, Ingram said in an interview.

Because of past burglaries, Ingram said he keeps his restaurants’ safes bolted to the ground, but the men used power saws to get into the safe.

“We’ve learned, so we don’t keep much money in our safes,” Ingram said. “They get hardly any money, but it’s all the damage they keep doing to the buildings when they break into them.”

More than that, Ingram said he worries about the safety of his staff — if the burglary happened a little later, people would have been arriving for work at the restaurant.

As for the restaurant’s notecards that police used as evidence markers, which say “Share Your Hope,” Ingram said his nonprofit Give Hope regularly selects from them to “help lots of different families with the obstacles they’re facing in life.”

The hope and prayer cards usually handed out to patrons at Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul were being used by police as evidence markers on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, to mark footprints of burglars who forced their way in before the restaurant opened for the day. (Courtesy of Brian Ingram)
The hope and prayer cards usually handed out to patrons at Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul were being used by police as evidence markers on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, to mark footprints of burglars who forced their way in before the restaurant opened for the day. (Courtesy of Brian Ingram)

'Criminals are not afraid'

Another Ingram-owned restaurant, Gnome Craft Pub on Cathedral Hill, was burglarized in both January and February. One of the suspects has pleaded not guilty to the burglary; the other suspect's court process is on hold after a judge ruled in March that he wasn’t competent to assist in his defense due to mental illness.

Ingram said he’s added sophisticated video surveillance to his restaurants, which has led to suspects being identified, so he said police catching people doesn’t seem to be the problem.

“Criminals are not afraid because they are released from jail within hours of robbing my businesses and that of our neighbors,” Ingram wrote on Facebook. “… How many people have to be robbed, hurt, terrified.”

He said he’s heard from owners of other businesses that have also been burglarized, but who aren’t as vocal as he is because they’re worried their clientele will be scared to come in.

After the second burglary at Gnome Craft Pub, Ingram said in a public plea on Facebook, “Where are you, elected officials?” He said he and Carter talked after that.

“I told him that I was sick of hearing about the future and what he wants to do,” Ingram said Tuesday. “I’m all for police reform and I’m all for justice reform and everything that needs to go with that, but something has to happen to help keep our city safe now.”

Ingram said earlier this year he was thinking about running against Carter in November. He had decided he wouldn’t, but he said Tuesday that people have been asking him to and he is reconsidering.