Project PEACE program sees decline in gun-related crimes in St. Paul

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The city of St. Paul saw a decrease in gun-related crimes since Project PEACE and Operation ASPIRE were launched in June of last year.

The community-led program has been in motion for nearly seven months and city leaders said they’re seeing the positive impact in real-time.

“Can you take 60 seconds, not the whole 60, to think about this decision to pull that trigger?” Tyrone Terrill, African American Leadership Council president, said.

It’s a question Terrill will ask while mentoring at-risk youth, in hopes to stop violence before it starts.

“I had a 15-year-old boy tell me last week that he’s okay dying at 15,” Terrill said. 

Terrill said investing in youth and their families will build a stronger and safer community.

“It’s definitely a team effort. None of us can solve this problem alone,” he said. “We’ve all got to have the same mission and that is to save a life and save you from taking a life.”

It’s one of the reasons why Project PEACE and Operation ASPIRE were created.

The Office of Neighborhood Safety teamed up with St. Paul Police department to put their own spin on tackling crime in the city.

Law enforcement works with community leaders, social workers and other groups to bring resources to those at risk, ranging from basic needs to job help.
The overall goal is to stop the pipeline to prison or injury and death by gunfire.

“You establish a relationship with an individual where we know they’re at risk, right? If that’s a trip to McDonald’s and you’re buying a burger to establish some trust with you. What does that person need?” Cmdr. Jeff Stiff, St. Paul Police, said.

In the program, there’s also a focus on helping the families of at-risk individuals and working with victims affected by gun violence.

“We’re really taking that individualized approach to ‘What do you need to take those next steps to keep you alive and out of jail?’ That is our goal at the end of the day and to decrease the gun violence,” Brooke Blakey, Office of Neighborhood Safety director, said.

According to city data, it’s working.

A few months after the program started in June 2022, gun-related crimes dropped 35 percent between September and December, compared to the same time period in 2021.

City officials explained not every case is a win.

Just this month, two teenage boys were shot near St. Paul community centers in two separate incidents.

“This is another opportunity for us to look at those young folks and look at those people that are involved in those gun violence incidents and say, ‘Okay, what can we do and also what did we miss?’” Blakey said.

Blakey explained the data is preliminary, but they’re optimistic the program will stop the cycle of violence in St. Paul.

“This isn’t a light switch. This is a work in progress, and we’re still really working hard so we can make a difference,” Cmdr. Stiff said.