In a year and a half as Minneapolis’ police chief, Medaria Arradondo has been forced to handle an array of issues that some police chiefs don’t encounter over the course of their entire careers, from overseeing security for a Super Bowl to the agency’s response to the community’s anger over a series of police-involved shootings.
Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the circumstances under which Arradondo was named chief in August 2017. As assistant chief, he had led the department’s response to the fatal police shooting of Justine Damond roughly a month earlier, while former Chief Janeé Harteau was on vacation. When former Mayor Betsy Hodges asked for Harteau’s resignation, city officials agreed Arradondo should complete the remainder of Harteau’s three-year term. That term expired early this month, though Mayor Jacob Frey and council members have appointed Arradondo, the city’s first black chief, for another three-year term.
Here, he talks about his time leading the department so far, and some of the big issues facing it. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Medaria Arradondo: Every day I come to work, I’m inspired by the enormous capacity and service from our sworn and civilian team members. I’m also just as humbled and proud of the wonderful communities that we are able to serve — from our seniors to our young people to our residents — this is a wonderful city. And for me to have been born and raised here, it’s just a wonderful opportunity and one that I do not take for granted. At the same time, obviously, working through collaborative efforts with our community to keep our community safe. … That is my greatest accomplishment.
MP: What have been the biggest challenges so far?
MA: I think the biggest challenge still, from the time that I was sworn in as chief, is public trust. That is something that … you have to continue to nurture. You have to continue to plant those seeds. You have to continue, day in and day out, to build those relationships — not only during the good times, but more importantly during the challenging times. The public trust will continue to be paramount in terms of how I lead this department moving forward. But most importantly, this is something that the men and women of this department, they have to all embrace and accept. … If we’re going to move forward and this is truly going to be the best police agency in the country, it has to be modeled through their actions every day and night as they interact with our community.
MP: Describe your efforts to transform the department’s culture.
MA: One of the things that we are doing is, we are looking at — very intentionally — we’re looking at the past 150 years of this organization. We are being very intentional in that, in terms of everything from our operations to our recruitment to our hiring to the capacity of service from our civilian team members. We are leaving no stone unturned.
But just as importantly, it is not just me as the chief looking at ways in which we can continue to grow and do better, but it’s actually working in partnership … with our communities to listen and hear from them. … What do they see, and how do they want the Minneapolis Police Department to best serve them? And so, that is something that will continue into 2019 and beyond.
MP: What steps are you taking to prioritize police officers’ wellness?
MA: The first thing that I’m doing is, I’m naming it. Far too often, in the history of this profession, we have stigmatized wellness and trauma — we have not named it. And unfortunately because of that stigma, we have lost many good men and women through these, what I call invisible injuries. We know that heroes need saving too. We need to name it. I need to make sure that we’re providing resources surrounding employee wellness. And we are absolutely excited about the monies that were appropriated through the hard work of Mayor Frey that we will now have moving forward in 2019. We are doing everything from mindfulness training, yoga. … We are exploring all types of practices that didn’t really give opportunity for our men and women both sworn and civilian to reset, recalibrate and get a fresh start — to really be as well as they can be as they’re doing this very important work.
MP: The number of 911 calls is rising across the city. That has created longer lag times for officers to reach callers. What is your response to residents and businesses that are worried about those growing wait times?
We are also a very aging department. … In some professions in our society, 40 years old may not seem like a lot. But you can be in your 40s in this profession, and you have already served over 20 years. We have attrition rates where we are losing about 35, 40 officers a year to retirement. Well, it takes time to recruit, hire and train that next group of new officers. We are just not keeping up with the population demands that our city has.
We talked about wellness of officers. I do not want … the only time that [officers] engaging with our community members is based on a 911 call, which for the most part can be very adversarial or very negative. I want to have enough officers where we can get out, talk to kids at the parks, go into the schools — where we can pull over the car and just have conversations with residents and visitors.
We are trying to do the best we can with the resource numbers that we have. But more still — we still need more. We also need to talk about service to our victims and survivors of crimes. We need to make sure that we have enough investigators to do a thorough job and to have the time so that they’re not so bogged down with an exorbitant amount of caseload work, as well. And so, it’s not just on the front end of people wanting it — we need more visible, uniformed officers. But that also correlates to investigations, as well. We are not at the levels in terms of police personnel from both a patrol investigative standpoint that we need to be based on our population, based on the demands that are now being more and more brought upon police. So, that is something that I agree with our community members, and I will continue to communicate that to our elected officials, as well.
MP: Is there a number that’s thrown out there to match demand or the size of the population?
MA: There are statistics based on comparable sized cities. … I think it was like 20 or so similar sized cities — and they base it on per 100,000 population — and we’re like in mid-range. There are cities with almost 100,000 less population than us and they have more officers per population than we do. So, we’re not even at the top tier, when you base it on that. And again, I always say, when I ask for more personnel, it’s never about over policing. It’s about, one, having enough adequate personnel and resources to provide for the public safety; to have officers and detectives in a way that they are doing their best to deliver in terms of public trust, through their engagement and through their investigative work.
MP: What do you tell people with concerns over officers’ use of excessive force, namely police-involved shootings? What are those conversations like?
MA: I recognize that those are absolutely concerns for some in our community. And I also recognize that there’s both historical trauma and current-day trauma. We are trying to deliver the best in professional policing in the country, and I take those complaints very seriously. I always encourage people that if they feel that they did not receive the service that they should have by one of our employees, to report that; to make a complaint. They all will be looked into. But even beyond that, to have the ability to have the conversation … and see how we can both collectively, as a department and as a community, work through that and heal from that. Listen, learn and move forward.
I am a firm believer that, you know, accountability is very important. I message that to our employees. But, really, once we work through that, how do we move forward together as a police department and as a community.