ST PAUL, Minn. — The police chief of Minnesota's capitol city will be stepping down in June, announcing he will not seek a second term at the department's helm.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell made the announcement on his Facebook page Wednesday, calling the decision a difficult one – made only "after spending the last few months in deep reflection."
In his post, Axtell talks about the challenges he's faced as chief, as St. Paul has struggled with a significant spike in shootings and homicides during the pandemic and the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"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," Axtell wrote in his post. "It has been a wonderful and trying experience, one I will forever cherish. The trust bestowed upon me by this city is truly humbling."
Chris Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor who appointed Chief Axtell in 2016, described him as a great leader.
"He knew every corner of the city of St. Paul," said Coleman. "People knew him, they trusted him."
Coleman said one of Axtell's greatest accomplishments is diversifying the department.
"His success in increasing the BIPOC members of sworn officers has been really important because we need a department that reflects the diversity of our community," said Coleman. "He also understood he was there to be in the corner for the men and women of the department, but when they messed up, he wasn’t afraid to take them on."
Islamic community leader and Imam Hassan Mohamud calls Chief Axtell a father figure who took time to learn east African culture. He broke the news to dozens of children who came out to pray at the Islamic Da'wah Center on University Avenue Wednesday.
"We were shocked by the news; to tell you the truth, we were not happy," said Mohamud. "This chief and his department, they don’t do only physical safety, but we feel peace of mind when you can sleep."
Axtell says he informed both Mayor Melvin Carter and the men and women of the St. Paul Police Department of his decision early Wednesday, saying the process of selecting the city's next chief will be "a long journey." He also promised that while his time leading the department will end, his commitment to public service will not.
"I’ve learned from those I admire that when you possess the heart of a public servant, you never stop trying to make a positive difference in the lives of your neighbors. I see it in Debbie Montgomery. I see it in Chiefs Finney, Harrington and Smith," Axtell wrote, referencing influences who made a huge impact on the community. "I saw it in the way John Nasseff kept giving back throughout his amazing life. When I look into my heart, it’s crystal clear that I want to follow their lead."
"One of the lessons my parents taught me was that a life well lived is a life dedicated to something greater than yourself. I still have a lot of years left to dedicate to being in service to others. The deep desire to make a positive difference still courses through my veins."
Mayor Carter issued a Facebook statement Wednesday saying in part, "With over 15 years as friends and colleagues, Chief Axtell & I share a common belief on how our officers can be a positive force in our community, and I'm proud of the progress we've made together."
KARE 11 is following this developing story and will have reaction both from St. Paul city leaders and community members as they become available.
Here is Chief Axtell's post, in its entirety.
Throughout my life, I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by people who possess the heart of a public servant. They make the most of and cherish every day.
My Mom and Dad have devoted their lives to their children, their community and their country, instilling in me the morals and ethics and values that continue to guide me through days both dark and filled with light.
Countless colleagues and community members showed me the importance of faith—faith in the inherent good people possess, faith in the resiliency of humanity, faith in myself.
And the police officers with whom I’ve worked over the past three decades have shown me that there is nothing more noble in life than answering the call to serve. No matter the pain you see people inflict on others, the innocent victims left physically and emotionally battered by violence, the vitriol or the constant calls for help, they keep coming back to serve a city they care about in their souls.
Family. Faith. Service.
After a lifetime of sharing infinite love with my family, after basking in friendships old and new, and after 33 years of proudly wearing the badge, these are the things that matter most to me. I feel blessed to have a real and meaningful life, filled with so many personal and professional challenges and rewards.
Serving as the Chief of Police for the City of Saint Paul and leading the best officers and civilians in the country has been my greatest professional honor, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my future with the police department.
Five and a half years ago, I had the privilege of being sworn in as Saint Paul's 41st Chief of Police. It’s an immense job that carries considerable weight and sacrifice. 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.
It has been a wonderful and trying experience, one I will forever cherish. The trust bestowed upon me by this city is truly humbling.
But today, I let the Mayor and the women and men of the SPPD know that I will not be pursuing a second term when my current six-year appointment ends next June.
Having been through this process before as a candidate, I know that selecting the next chief is a long journey, which is why I’m announcing this today.
This is a difficult decision, made after spending the last few months in deep reflection. I trust my instincts. I believe in the women and men of the SPPD. And I know that it’s time to move on to serve my community in another manner.
It’s also an exciting moment for all of us, because everyone—from the leadership team to patrol to the civilians—has worked so incredibly hard to lead from the front and to be part of a police department that truly reflects the values and diversity of the city. Every member of the SPPD understands that the only true authority we possess is the authority granted to us by the people we serve.
We have so many smart, caring and dedicated law enforcement professionals at all levels of the agency. With so much internal talent, your police department’s future is in good hands.
I’ve learned from those I admire that when you possess the heart of a public servant, you never stop trying to make a positive difference in the lives of your neighbors. I see it in Debbie Montgomery. I see it in Chiefs Finney, Harrington and Smith. I saw it in the way John Nasseff kept giving back throughout his amazing life. When I look into my heart, it’s crystal clear that I want to follow their lead.
One of the lessons my parents taught me was that a life well lived is a life dedicated to something greater than yourself. I still have a lot of years left to dedicate to being in service to others. The deep desire to make a positive difference still courses through my veins.
So, thank you for taking the time to read this long post. But most importantly, thank you for your trust, the support and the kindness you show to the officers and civilians who pour their hearts and souls into keeping you safe, and allowing me the honor of serving as your police chief.
This isn’t goodbye. We still have a lot of work to do. And I will continue to make the most of and cherish every day…