Henry was sworn in as the department’s police chief on Wednesday.

ST PAUL, Minn. -Axel Henry said he never imagined he would become the chief of police in St. Paul.

He said when he started in law enforcement 24 years ago, he wanted to stay on patrol. But over the years, he’s opted for promotions when it felt right. He now he’s on top.

So why would he want to, at a time in America where the police aren’t always pro-public?

“We entered this line of work to serve,” he said. “And I want to serve at the highest level and service is most important when it’s at the most crucial moments. And it’s that moment in our history, and right now when we see people leaving their jobs and seeing leaders walking away is the time where I felt was the most important time to step forward. It’s easy. Nowhere else would I rather be than here right now.

And, right here and now, Henry sees two big challenges from day one: guns on the streets and getting more officers.

“Gun violence outside, from a law enforcement perspective, is absolutely our biggest challenge,” Henry said.

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He says the problem will be a constant, but he is confident with the work already underway and by hiring more officers, it can improve.

“This is a problem that’s happening, nationwide,” Henry said of getting more officers. “I know of police officers who work for us right now who are being heavily recruited by other agencies to go there, so poaching is happening. But I think the key is to get people back centered on what they went into this line of work for, and that is to serve.”

While he says he wants to extend the invitation to apply to EVERYONE who wants to serve, he knows it will take the community of St. Paul – all of it – to make a dent.

“It’s even more powerful when our community leaders come out, especially in those diverse communities, and say we need good people,” Henry said. “We want people in our community to come together, so we have to do it in unison without community members.”

As for Henry, some members of the community are taking a “wait and see approach” when it comes to taking over as the new boss.

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“I think it’s right,” he said. “Confidence is one of those things we talk about all the time, but trust is a feeling. It’s not something you can quantify on a spreadsheet – I’m just glad they’re willing to wait and see instead of jumping to a conclusion, I think that’s right. We have to produce results and keep good things and expand and always be evolving.

Henry says he wants to work for change every day, but admits he has expectations. The tall ones.

“The thing that worries me the most is letting people down,” she said. “I love my community and want to make sure we’re doing our best for it.”

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