ST. PAUL -- St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, a long-time officer who saw the police department through some of the “city’s darkest moments” since he took the department’s helm in 2016, will step down when his terms ends in June, he announced Wednesday, Oct. 27.
Axtell was tested from his first day as chief and has continued to be — policing has evolved since the killings of Philando Castile and George Floyd and during the coronavirus pandemic; there have been protests and riots in the capital city; and gun violence has been on the rise with last year tying for the most homicides on record in St. Paul.
He is well-liked among community members and has ushered in changes throughout the department.
Axtell, 53, and Mayor Melvin Carter, who took office in 2018, have disagreed on department staffing and equipment.
Axtell didn’t cite a specific reason for his departure. He notified Carter and the police department as a whole on Wednesday morning, writing in a statement that it was “a difficult decision, made after spending the last few months in deep reflection.” He added that he knows “it’s time to move on to serve my community in another manner.”
Carter, who is running for reelection next week, had not previously publicly stated his plans for the police chief, but he said in an interview Wednesday that he would have reappointed Axtell to a second term. Carter said he and Axtell had ongoing conversations about the topic over the years about and most recently discussed it a couple of months ago.
Carter said Axtell's effectiveness has been seen in various areas, including officers clearing a higher percentage of cases with arrests; police using force significantly less often; and the number of lawsuits against police and payouts declining to the lowest point in a decade.
But Dino Guerin, who is running for St. Paul mayor, said Wednesday that he believes Axtell is leaving because he hasn’t been supported by Carter.
“If he had the proper staffing levels, (Axtell) could do what he does best and that’s the community outreach,” said Guerin, who added that he would aim to talk Axtell into staying if he’s elected.
Being police chief is “an immense job that carries considerable weight,” Axtell said in his Wednesday statement.
“There’s no greater responsibility than protecting people, seeking justice for victims and working to keep police officers safe as they rush into the unknown to help others,” he wrote. “It has been a wonderful and trying experience, one I will forever cherish. The trust bestowed upon me by this city is truly humbling.”
The last time a St. Paul police chief sought a second term was William Finney, who served from 1992 to 2004.