Brainerd High School graduate Todd Axtell on Monday was named as St. Paul's new police chief.
"It's an incredible honor to serve as the St. Paul Police chief," Axtell, who is a 27-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department, said in a telephone interview.
Axtell graduated from Brainerd High School in 1988. His parents are Bill and Elaine Axtell. Bill worked as a draftsman and his mother worked as a hairdresser. His parents, who live on South Long Lake, are proud of their son.
"He has worked so hard," Elaine said. "Our family is excited for Todd, we're happy for him. We have two wonderful sons. We're very fortunate."
Elaine, a 1962 Brainerd High School graduate, is a Brainerd native who spent time with her family in Northfield and Silver Bay before moving back to Brainerd, where her late parents Carl and Mabel Britton still lived. Todd Axtell started at Brainerd High School as a junior.
Axtell said he was always interested in becoming a police officer. He said his grandfather, who was an officer in Silver Bay, died when he was 47. Axtell, who was 2 years old when his grandfather passed away, always asked about his grandfather.
"He sounded like a pretty great guy so I wanted to honor him," Axtell said.
Axtell earned his associate degree in law enforcement from Alexandria Technical and Community College. He then moved back to Brainerd to find a job as an officer. He said one day he was traveling along Highway 371 when he saw a squad car parked outside of a restaurant. He stopped and introduced himself to the officer.
"I told this young officer, who was 23 or 24, that I was looking for a police job," Axtell said. "I asked him who the police chief was and he said 'You're looking at him.' He hired me the next day."
That officer was former Pequot Lakes Police Chief Mark Forsberg. Axtell also worked as a Breezy Point police officer under then police chief Dan Gottsch. He also worked on the drug task force for Crow Wing County for a year and a half.
Axtell said in his early years as a police officer in the Brainerd lakes area, he learned that the officer's back-up was not always immediate.
"I really had to learn how to talk with people and how to de-escalate situations," Axtell said. "Because when you looked over your shoulder and you didn't see the cavalry coming you had to be prepared. That was a good lesson for me at the time. I learned at a younger age in my career how important communication was, and service with respect was important."
Axtell said he still comes to the Brainerd area to visit friends and family. In high school he got a job at the movie theater by the Westgate Mall in Brainerd, where he became good friends with the theater owner Marvin Mann and his children.
"That was my first job up there and they (Manns) are a great family," Axtell said.
In September of 1989, he made the move to St. Paul, where he was hired by Chief Bill McCutcheon, and embarked on what Axtell calls his "dream job" as a patrol officer, according to a press release from the St. Paul Police Department.
Over the next three decades, Axtell dedicated his career to community service and outreach, building relationships and keeping Minnesota's capital city safe.
The release stated Axtell served as a patrol officer, sergeant, commander, senior commander and assistant chief. He is credited with broadening the department's community outreach efforts, spearheading junior police academies for young people and new Americans, organizing community cookouts that have brought thousands of residents and officers together for conversations and free meals, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for programs that make law enforcement more accessible and transparent to community members.
Throughout his career, Axtell has been a strong advocate of education, working closely with local public and private schools to increase access for people from all walks of life while setting a positive example by earning his bachelor's and master's degrees. He has championed transparency in law enforcement and helped educate the public of the important role officers play in their community by serving on the boards of a variety of organizations, including the Midway Chamber of Commerce, Visit Saint Paul and the YWCA of Saint Paul. He has also volunteered countless hours to mentor and guide young people who need jobs, support in their daily lives and guidance to build brighter futures for themselves.
Axtell, 48, lives in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul and enjoys spending time with his son, daughter and four grandchildren.