St. Paul police make deposits in the ‘bank of trust’


“Deposits in the bank of trust” is what the St. Paul police call the long work of building community relationships. From two in-depth interviews that I had with Matt Bostrom, assistant Chief, and todd Axtell, Watch Commander, there are strong themes running through their decisions. And, indeed, many casual conversations with St. Paul police officers back up these common themes of building trust. 

Surprisingly, the first deposit in the bank of trust is the personal volunteering with young people by the St. Paul police. The drug education program, D.A.R.E., has long been in St. Paul schools. Matt Bostrom and many law enforcement officers are involved in coaching sports. Todd Axtell is involved in the YWCA youth achievers’ program on police techniques. This is direct personal contact by high-level officers, not just an organization hosting a volunteer program. The payoff for working with young people has to be at least five years down the road, so it’s a very long range project. Yet I had one person say in a meeting that he supported the police because of the “way” that his son had been arrested 16 years ago. St Paul is a place where people stay, where you are a newcomer until you have been here at least 10 years. So while I was marginally aware that my children had had training in school programs that involved police officers, it was not until my interviews that I realized the depth of that involvement.

Courtesy and kindness is another deposit in the bank of trust by the St. Paul police. Obviously, as law enforcement, the trend of their encounters is negative and confrontational. Yet Todd Axtell describes the St. Paul standard training where a police officer gives a ticket so courteously that the receiver actually thanks them. Matt Bostrom tells a story of a law enforcement officer going to a door greeted by a pointed gun. Yet the person with the gun sees the St. Paul police officer, lowers the gun and greets the St. Paul officer like an old friend. That friendly greeting was the benefit of many years of courteous visits to the same house. Make no mistake, to try to be actively courteous is extra effort when the natural trend of the encounter is to be negative.

Another deposit in the bank of trust is the community trust of the quality of St. Paul police work. Both Matt Bostrom and Todd Axtell speak of doing the right thing when no one is looking. Sometimes this is as small as writing a full description instead of a brief one, so that the next person working the case has more information. It is a matter of never taking the easy shortcut. Sometimes it is the emotional, hard duty of internal discipline.

All of the deposits in the bank of trust are what the St. Paul police rely on when something goes wrong. A few years ago, when the wrong person was shot in a police encounter, the St. Paul police, as a whole, were not blamed because of their long, consistent track record. In the peace community, the St. Paul police are known to be law enforcement that people can communicate with. I was surprised to learn that many protests are now targeting Minneapolis because media will not cover St. Paul, because we are so calm and peaceful. This is the “if it bleeds it leads” corporate media that no longer covers peaceful St. Paul protests.

I have more interviews and articles planned for the St. Paul police force and I look forward to more positive community stories.

In high contrast, the Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher’s department seems to be banking up fear and distrust. The actions of the Metro Gang Strike Force are closely associated with the Ramsey County Sheriff because of previous political campaigns, press releases and the strong fiscal agent relationship. Indeed, even the recent Sheriff Fletcher fundraising for a charity event backfired on the community relationships because gun permit holders felt targeted and coerced. Those feelings of gun permit holders come from a long history of Sheriff Fletcher using arbitrary discretion in applying the “dangerous” standard to deny gun permit renewals or first-time approvals. Indeed a long pattern of jail complaints now mean that ordinary people fear to be in Sheriff Fletcher’s jail just for health reasons alone. Asking a question at a political event has been enough to cause Sheriff Fletcher to threaten people. So the community no longer trusts Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher or his office.

Indeed, I would wonder why anyone would continue to trust Sheriff Fletcher given what has happened to his close personal friends. Mark Naylon served as best man at Sheriff Fletcher’s second wedding. Even though Naylon was hired as the sheriff’s spokesman, the trial testimony indicated that he spent nearly all of his time performing law enforcement duties, even though he had no formal training and wasn’t a licensed police officer. He is now serving 30 months for corruption. Timothy Rehak was a long-time St. Paul cop before Sheriff Fletcher hired him to work as a sheriff’s department investigator. Now Timothy Rehak is serving 35 months for corruption. All of Sheriff Fletcher friends at the Metro Gang Strike Force, including Ron Ryan, Strike Force commander, are in trouble. Indeed Sheriff Fletcher fired an employee, Cindy Gehlsen, who was the Metro Gang Strike Force’s lone administrative assistant. Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone if that employee had simply had better training, supervision and support? And the even better question is, why would anyone want or trust a promise of work in Sheriff Fletcher’s office for political favors? Because not only does the community have reasons to distrust Sheriff Fletcher, so does everyone who works around him.

Indeed, the experience of Sheriff Fletcher should be a cautionary tale that we should not take the strong positive community relationship with the St. Paul police force for granted. Instead we should be doing all that we can to encourage the positive community relationships of the St. Paul police and make that the standard of policing.