ST PAUL, Minn — Life is filled with transitions - moving from one chapter to another - but few are bigger than the one Todd Axtell is about to embark on.
Wednesday marks Axtell's final day with the St. Paul Police Department after 33 years wearing the badge, the last six as chief. He has moved from working the neighborhoods of the saintly city to the department's top post, and as of June 1, is ready for his next chapter.
"It's been quite an honor to serve St. Paul for 33 years," Axtell reflected early Wednesday.
As a tribute to the outgoing chief, June 1 has been designated as "Todd Axtell Day" across Minnesota by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. Axtell joined KARE 11 Sunrise to talk about his career, and the legacy he leaves behind.
"I feel great," the chief shared. "I didn't know how it would feel on the last day of serving this city for so long. I feel like, in many regards, mission accomplished, enjoyed every minute of this job. There's been a lot of tough days, and certainly lots of tough days ahead in law enforcement across this country, it's a challenging time for men and women in policing."
When asked what he is most proud of, Axtell emphasized the trust and relationships he's worked to forge in St. Paul, saying he set out to engage the community at "historic levels" after being appointed chief by then-Mayor Chris Coleman in 2016.
"He knew every corner of the city of St. Paul. People knew him, they trusted him," Coleman remembered on the day Axtell announced he would not accept reappointment as St. Paul's police chief.
Islamic community leader and Imam Hassan Mohamud actually refers to Chief Axtell as a "father figure" who took time to learn east African culture.
"This chief and his department, they don’t do only physical safety, but we feel peace of mind when you can sleep," Mohamud said in October of 2021 after hearing Axtell was stepping down.
Axtell cites increasing diversity in the city's police force as a point of pride, saying just 18% of the department was non-white when he took the oath as a new officer to protect and serve. Today, on his last day as chief, that number has grown to 51%, with marked gains especially among Black and Native American officers.
"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," Coleman said, reflecting on the chief's legacy. "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."
Axtell is also credited for embedding social workers with officers to take a more wholistic approach for addressing the problems that lead to crime, and introducing body cams for greater transparency.
Obviously there were challenges during Axtell's tenure, some of which likely influenced his decision to not re-up. Violent crime is up significantly in St. Paul, especially when it comes to homicides and gun violence. The riots and unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd across the river in Minneapolis were a frustration, as was dealing with problematic officers whose actions sullied the department's reputation.
While he will no longer be serving as chief, Todd Axtell has made it clear his commitment to public service will not end when he takes off the badge. He is just 54 years old, and there are plenty of things to do.
"One of the lessons my parents taught me was that a life well lived is a life dedicated to something greater than yourself," Axtell wrote while announcing he would be leaving St. Paul PD. "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."
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