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Axtell officially off the job; St. Paul ups search for new permanent police chief

Both St. Paul and Minneapolis are searching for the next leaders of their police departments, a decision that could define the Twin Cities for years to come.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday officially confirmed longtime department veteran Jeremy Ellison as the interim police chief, bringing outgoing chief Todd Axtell's six-year term to a close while the city searches for a permanent replacement. 

Council President Amy Brendmoen said she hopes the city will install a permanent chief by late summer or early fall. Ellison has previously said he will not seek the job.

"For the next chief, we need to continue to have someone who really understands our community, who can relate to our community," Brendmoen said in an interview after the confirmation vote. "Someone who can communicate well, authentically and earnestly, like Chief Axtell has done."

Earlier this year, the city council approved minimum qualifications for the next chief, including four years of administrative experience overseeing a department that serves a metropolitan area of 200,000 people.

In April, St. Paul also formed a search committee of nearly 40 community leaders, tasked with recommending five candidates to Mayor Melvin Carter. The group includes Pastor Richard Pittman, the president of the Saint Paul NAACP, who described having a strong relationship with Axtell over the past six years. 

The search committee has not met yet, according to Pittman, but plans to identify candidates soon. 

"It's very important in a chief that it's somebody that has passion in the community, and believes in diversity and inclusion," Pittman said. "We are looking for transparency and accountability when it comes to policing our communities."

A similar search process is underway in neighboring Minneapolis, where interim chief Amelia Huffman currently leads the Minneapolis Police Department. In addition to forming its own search committee, Minneapolis has also hired an independent search firm and held five public listening sessions across the city in April and May. The city expects to have permanent chief selected by the end of the summer. 

While the two cities have different needs, both have been plagued by near-record violence the past few years. 

In St. Paul, specifically, the city set a record for homicides in 2021 and has matched that pace so far in 2022.

"This is one of the most critical times that we are facing right now," Pittman said. "Hopefully, as we go through the process, we'll find a candidate."

After the search committee recommends candidates to Mayor Carter, his final choice must ultimately gain approval from the city council — just as Mayor Jacob Frey will need approval from the Minneapolis City Council.

"When you do research to try and find other police departments that are leading in progressive change, it's us," said Brendmoen, the council president in St. Paul. "I think we need someone to continue that forward momentum."

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