September 1, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — Ask St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly if he should be held responsible for the city's crime rate, he says , "yes. Mayors need to be focusing on public safety. It's the number-one issue of government," says Kelly.
Kelly says during his four years in office, the overall crime rate has fallen by double-digits.
"We have done an extraordinarily good job over past three years in very, very difficult budgetary times, with losing lots of Local Government Aid and during a national recession, to keep resources focused in public safety."
Though the crime rate dropped between the years 2001 and 2004, the first six months of 2005 show a 6.2-percent increase in serious crime in St. Paul, including homicide, rape and aggravated assault.
Kelly says his administration has responded with new initiatives designed to target youth, families, and problem neighborhoods.
But, mayoral candidate Chris Coleman says Kelly's been ignoring a crucial tool in the fight against crime -- cops on the street.
"This is a mayor who's reduced the number of sworn personnel in the police department, so that we don't have the ability to have the kind of level of police presence in certain communities that we need to have it," he says. "And so, if we're going to talk about public safety, we need to be honest, and we need to put resources in where they are."
St. Paul lost 19 police officers between 2002 and 2004.
Randy Kelly agrees St. Paul needs more cops. His current budget proposal includes a 3-percent property-tax increase. Kelly says the new tax revenue would pay for hiring 100 police officers over the next five years.
Both of Kelly's opponents say they applaud the mayor's proposal to bring in more officers, but they say it's too little and too late.
Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson says the public safety budget needs twice the amount Kelly is proposing. She says, as mayor, she would bring in another $1 million to $2 million for city services -- including public safety -- through the city's fee agreement with Xcel Energy. She says the proposal would cost homeowners with $100-a-month energy bills, an extra $12 a year.
But Dickinson says more cops are only part of the answer. She says fighting crime requires building deeper relationships with the city's families and neighborhoods.
"I think we need to have a much more thoughtful approach to crime," she says. "I think one of the things that is often ignored, and yet every police officer will tell you, that you've got to have a more holistic approach to crime. If you want to prevent future crimes you also have to make sure that parks and recreation are well-funded. We know that kids have to have a place to put their energies in after-school hours."
Chris Coleman is also promoting more money for after-school programs through the parks and recreation budget.
"We've got to do the basic things of getting kids out of trouble, off the streets, and into the rec centers after school," he says. "So that they are learning, they're doing what they need to do, they have adult supervision, they have someone that cares for them, to keep them on the straight and narrow."
Randy Kelly says his administration has already been making the kinds of investments the other candidates are talking about.
"We attack the whole issue of crime not only from intervention, suppression, but also prevention," he says. "It is the reason why we've greatly expanded our Police Athletic League, working in collaboration with our police and our public works department to make greater opportunities available to young people, particularly young people at risk."
There are five other candidates in St. Paul's mayoral race. The top two finishers in the September 13 primary will compete in the city's general election in November.