ST PAUL, Minn. — Axel Henry said he never imagined becoming the Chief of Police in St. Paul.
He said when he started with law enforcement 24 years ago, he wanted to stay on patrol. But over the years, he went for promotions when they felt right. Now, he's at the top.
So, why would he want to do it — at a time in America when policing isn't always in public favor?
"We get into this line of work to serve," he said. "And I want to serve at the highest levels and service is the most important when it's at the most crucial times. And it's that time in our history, and right now, when we are seeing people leaving the job and seeing leaders stepping away is the time I felt was the most important time to step up. That's easy. No other place I'd rather be than here right now."
And, in the right here and now, Henry sees two big challenges from day one — guns on the streets and getting more officers.
"Gun violence externally, from a law enforcement perspective, is absolutely our biggest challenge," said Henry.
He says that problem will be a constant, but he's confident with the work already happening and with getting more officers, it can get better.
"That's a problem happening, nationally," said Henry of getting more officers. "I am aware of police officers that work for us right now that are being heavily recruited by other agencies to go there, so there is poaching happening. But I think the key is getting folks centered back on what they came into this line of work for, and that is to serve."
While he says he wants to extend the invitation to apply to ALL who want to serve, he knows it will take the St. Paul community — all of it — to make a dent.
"It's even more powerful when our community leaders come out, especially in those diverse communities, and say we need good people," Henry said. "We want people from our own community to join, so we need to do that in unison with out community members."
As for Henry, some community members are taking a "wait and see approach" when it comes to taking over as the new chief.
"I think that is fair," he said. "Trust is one of those things that we always talk about, but trust is a feeling. It's not some quantifiable thing on a spread sheet – I'm just glad they are willing to wait and see as opposed to jump to a conclusion, I think that's fair. We have to produce results and maintain good things and expand and always be evolving.
Henry says he wants to work for change everyday, but admits he has expectations. High ones.
"The thing that worries me the most is letting people down," he said. "I love my community and I want to make sure we are doing our best for it."
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