St. Paul African-American community leaders say relationship with police is ‘fractured’

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St. Paul Police Chief, Axel Henry, has only been on the job for about a month but he is already facing tough questions from leaders in St. Paul’s African-American community.

The leader of the St. Paul African-American Leadership Council, Tyrone Terrill, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS his organization, along with the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP and the St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, met last week with Chief Henry and Mayor Melvin Carter to express their “disappointment” and “frustration” with the fact there is not one African-American officer on Chief Henry’s top management team.

“The way we stood side-by-side, and always worked with St. Paul PD, and to now tell us that we cannot have representation is an insult to the community,” said Terrill.

Terrill said Chief Henry told him he was committed to training officers of color to make sure they were qualified to fill positions in top command posts.  Terrill said he believes this is the first time in 30 years that an African-American officer was not in a high management position at SPPD.

“In a day where the city proclaims they are a partner in equity, inclusion, diversity, then why would you want a team, why would you want a team that’s all white and one Latino woman?  Not acceptable,” said Terrill.

And, Terrill told KSTP, he was not happy to hear, from Chief Henry, that it could take 12 to 24 months to appoint an African-American officer to the command leadership team.

“Possibly 36 months. And, if that doesn’t happen, his exact words were ‘I will resign as chief’,” said Terrill.  “And, we cannot go six months. I don’t want it to go six days without somebody at the table.”

Chief Henry, in a written statement, said “Career and leadership development for all employees is something I care deeply about. This is particularly important for our command staff, of which over fifty percent have two years of experience or less.  This is a challenge that precedes my appointment as chief one month ago.  Like recruitment, leadership development at every rank has great value and meaning to me. Especially at the highest ranks of our agency. I shared these values and goals with Mayor Carter when I interviewed for the chief’s position, and he shares my vision for our department.” 

In a November interview with KSTP, Chief Henry said hiring people of color to his management team was a high priority.

“And, if they’re not in positions where they have the experience, or they have the rank, or they have the types of things that we need them to have to step into those top tier positions, then we have to look at what we are doing as an agency to make sure those people believe that those opportunities are there for them,” Henry said at the time.

Another prominent leader in the St. Paul African-American community, Rev. Runney Patterson, who is President of the Minnesota State Baptist Convention, said he sat in on the meetings with Chief Henry and told KSTP he is “frustrated” by the timeline the chief laid out.

“What’s your plan? What do you have in place right now to ensure that after your six years we are not in the same shape that we are in now? He couldn’t give us an answer,” said Patterson.

There are 12 top management positions at SPPD and there is one person of color, Deputy Chief of Community Engagement, Pamela Barragan, a Latina.