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In West St. Paul municipal election this year there is a race in each ward for City Council and a mayor’s race. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the election. See our full details on where and how to vote in West St. Paul.
Police departments are facing increased scrutiny in the aftermath of the George Floyd case. The West St. Paul City Council is already reviewing the Use of Force policy. What needs to change here in West St. Paul?
We posed this question to all candidates (with one exception, noted below). Here are their responses:
Candidates for Mayor
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson
Looking at the Use of Force policy is just the first step to addressing the many underlying issues that caused George Floyd’s death.
We can be a city that is dynamic and leading in diversity and inclusion, if we go beyond addressing excessive force and talk about what reimagining safety looks like for all communities in West St.Paul.
In my 20 years of working and living in diverse communities that range from privilege to poverty, I have experienced and learned this will include ways to better protect and show up for women, LGBTQIA+, those with mental health issues, and creating a solid plan to engage renters—who are most likely to be a person of color, which will help address and identify any racial issues that may be present or come up within the community.
We (elected officials) have joined our police department on several neighborhood gatherings to discuss various topics related to safety in our city. We must continue these conversations to better understand our community members’ concerns and build trust. Neighborhood watch groups are always encouraged. As elected officials, we will continue to work with our police chief to ensure we are providing them with the resources they need to keep our community safe. Training must continue to be at a high level. I have tremendous confidence in our police department.
Candidates for City Council Ward 1
(Note: Chief Sturgeon has mentioned a few of these areas in his presentations, but additional communication and education are needed.)
A community advisory committee needs to be established and the rental community needs to be represented in this group. Separately, we should add community members to our Public Safety Committee.
Community discussion/listening sessions on policing need to be scheduled. Topics of discussion could include:
- What are other Minnesota law enforcement organizations and communities doing to establish or improve community policing efforts? What are programs like EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Contagious), POST (Minnesota Peace Officers Standards & Training), and NOBLE (the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives) doing and how can we incorporate these efforts locally?
- Clarify WSPPD’s Use of Force policy and whether WSPPD has a Duty to Act & Intervene policy in place.
- WSP crime metrics (why are we seeing stories about WSP’s rising crime rate?) How have these metrics changed (e.g., property/Class I crimes)?
How does law enforcement respond to the following situations? What programs and resources are available? How and when are they deployed?
- mental health
- violent crimes, including shootings, domestic assaults, break-ins, etc.
How can neighborhood watch groups be organized and effective?
I am very proud of our new police chief and the police department and how they have handled the recent unrest. I firmly believe that we have one of the best police departments in the Twin Cities and we see that in the high marks the department receives at our community meetings. That being said, I fully support continued training for police and fire departments in all areas including diversity training, use of force training, de-escalation training. Also working very closely in-person with neighborhood groups, children, and underrepresented communities in order to create better relationships and to maintain transparency.
Candidates for City Council Ward 2
As the Chair of the Public Safety Committee I was responsible for bringing this issue forward. Our police department is doing a great job and many communities should use our model as an example that is working.
Our West St. Paul police officers deserve a lot of credit for the work they do to keep our community safe. I have personally seen our officers manage difficult situations with professionalism and care. In my own neighborhood just last year, we had a very scary situation in which a person from our community was threatening to hurt himself and his family. After several tense hours, our police officers de-escalated the situation and took the person safely into custody.
Having relationships with the community goes a long way, so I appreciate when our police reach out to residents. For example, our West St. Paul police officers make a point to stop by every Night to Unite event. My own kids have been delighted by sitting in the police cruiser, turning on the flashing lights, and trying out the walkie talkies. (Plus, the officers usually give out coupons for free ice cream!)
I also have to recognize that I have heard from some of our community members of color—particularly renters—that they do not feel the same level of safety and security that I do. We need to make sure every person in our community feels safe and protected. I am committed to partnering with West St. Paul police and city staff and working with our community to learn how we can be better and make sure everyone in our community feels safe and welcome.
Candidates for City Council Ward 3
The George Floyd case exposed the cracks in police departments not just locally, but across the United States. It also exposed which elected officials were prepared to discuss racial inequities in an open and honest way, and also allowed us to see the intention and principles within our own department. I have been appreciative of our department’s willingness to have conversations around our Use of Force policy, our community outreach, the perceptions people have of the department, and how we might do better here in West St. Paul. We have a small department in a fairly small city (geographically) so there is a lot of opportunity for us to exhibit community policing and be an example to others. In West St. Paul, the department has specialists who focus on mental health services as well as domestic violence services and we are partnering closely with organizations that allow us to serve the public better in these areas. We need to keep funding these vital programs and help expand upon their reach as much as we can.
(no campaign site)
[Per a request from David Meisinger in 2018 threatening to report me to the police for harassment if I ever contact him again, I did not ask Meisinger this question and therefore have no response to share.]
Vote on November 3
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The West St. Paul city website has details on where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices. See our full details on where and how to vote in West St. Paul.
Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to my questions.
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