Reducing tragedy in our cities

Todd Podgorski Peace Officer South St. Paul City Council Member

Public safety is one of the most important and primary responsibilities of local government. We all want to feel safe in our communities. As a city council member in South St. Paul and a peace officer in a nearby county I take this responsibility very seriously. The recent police shootings in South St. Paul, the murder of a Stillwater prison guard, along with the four- year anniversary of the murder of Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick, brings my attention to the issue of public safety and how we can find new ways to keep residents in Dakota County safe. 

First, is that we need to address the approximately 4,900 criminals with active Dakota County warrants. Dakota County needs a warrant team that searches out the most dangerous of these 4,900 criminals. This team can also search for criminals in Dakota County who have other jurisdiction warrants as well. 

Second, I call on our county commissioners who set the budget for the sheriff’s department to prioritize and support our sheriff to put this team together. Dakota County can afford this team. Our neighbors in Ramsey County have successfully implemented an apprehension team for decades.

Mendota Heights Mayor Neil Garlock stated they also recently added more police officers. The senseless murder of Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick in West St. Paul was all the more difficult for me knowing his killer had both a Minnesota Department of Corrections parole violation warrant and a Dakota County warrant. The Department of Corrections doubled its apprehension team after this tragedy. 

South St. Paul and West St. Paul have the highest percentage of all of Dakota County’s state licensed group homes and homes that have registered housing with services provided. These homes have added to our police and fire calls. 

The burden of having an increased need for public safety services has been unfairly placed on our cities as both have had no choice but to add police officers in recent years to respond to the increase in calls for their services. South Metro Fire Department is planning to add two more medics in 2019. 

Third, Dakota County and the state of Minnesota should reimburse cities that have to pay additional police and fire costs for these homes with services that are placed in their communities. In South St. Paul we anticipate that the annual cost to our taxpayers is between $300,000 and $500,000. For our 2019 budget, we are again faced with adding an additional peace officer and clerical staff to support this unfunded mandate from the state and county. Our community understands the need for affordable housing and housing with services. All we ask is that the state and county pay its fair share, and recognize the injustice of having the communities in Dakota County with some of the lowest tax bases and family incomes take on this disproportionate cost. 

Fourth, the Dakota County Communication Center’s (DCC) fee for service model is not equitable for citizens in both South St. Paul and West St. Paul. It is time for the sheriff’s department to fully operate the DCC and have a county wide uniform tax rate to pay for its operation. This would save the taxpayers in South St. Paul $342,000 each year and West St. Paul would save $374,000 a year. 

Fifth, the state and county should provide sufficient notice to city police before placing dangerous people in our communities. For example, the shooting suspect of our South St. Paul police officers was released from St. Peter State Hospital on a provisional discharge after being diagnosed as mentally ill and dangerous. 

Lastly, to better protect citizens and help people in need Dakota County should have more treatment centers for people who are mentally ill and/or chemically dependent. These likely would be more secure settings than what is currently being offered for people who have difficult behaviors. 

Public safety is a primary responsibility of our local branches of government. We should be more proactive in protecting our community and not reactive after a tragedy has occurred.

– Todd Podgorski, Peace Officer / South St. Paul City Council Member

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