Amid a spike in St. Paul homicides and reported gun violence this year, a new report reveals an apparent open-air drug market in downtown St. Paul that may be linked to other reports of violence, but the city’s police claim that their hands are tied when it comes to making arrests.
The report aired this week and is based on hidden camera video footage that showed what even a St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) spokesperson agreed is unfettered open-air drug deals taking place, and which one business person interviewed said is “out of control” illegal activity spilling out from the Metro Transit Green Line central transit hub.
Bryan Larson, a representative from the company that owns many of the buildings and skyways in downtown St. Paul, said in the report that the drug dealing, loitering and gambling that seems to stem and flow out from the transit hub has progressively gotten worse over the last few months.
That claim is not surprising given the Green Line’s prominence at the center of several reports about crime at transit stations over the last few months, including a claim by the SPPD itself that characterized the Green Line as a crime magnet within a federal grant application requesting crime fighting funds earlier this year.
When St. Paul Assistant Police Chief Robert Thomasser was shown the hidden camera footage and asked why the activity is allowed to take place unchecked, he said the police were not able to “prioritize” investigations or do anything about the crimes based on the current “charging climate.”
The Assistant Chief’s comments seem to be a reference to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s decision earlier this year to issue a charging policy that claimed that felony prosecutions for the “sale of small amounts of marijuana” disproportionally impacted people of color, and that his office would no longer be prosecuting those cases unless there was a “clear and compelling public safety need to do so.”
After seeing the hidden camera video footage, Choi claimed in the report that his policy was being “misconstrued” by police and that open-air drug dealing is a big problem. The report said that Choi further stated he just wanted to be sure there was a “real public safety issue” before bringing felony marijuana sales charges against suspects.
The report concluded that until police and prosecutors work out their differences in interpreting the criminal justice issues involving racial equity and drug enforcement policy, the open-air drug dealing and problems that come with it are likely to continue unchecked. Thomasser said in the report that if County Attorney Choi said, “enough is enough, we’re ready [to prosecute],” that his department could get the problem cleaned up in a very short time.
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