Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

How Cedric Alexander aims to tackle Minneapolis’ policing woes

Though Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and some community members have expressed hope in Alexander, some have questioned how quickly the role was filled, his qualifications and whether his salary is appropriate.

Cedric Alexander: “I didn’t come here 1,200 miles from Florida to be complicit. I didn’t come here to do nothing.”
Cedric Alexander: “I didn’t come here 1,200 miles from Florida to be complicit. I didn’t come here to do nothing.”
CL Alexander Consulting

Cedric Alexander, the very first commissioner of the new Minneapolis Office of Community Safety, was sworn in earlier this month, beginning his effort to transform public safety in a city that saw nearly half of its citizens vote to replace its police department last year.

Though Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, his new boss, and some community members have expressed hope in Alexander’s capacity to bring about change, some have questioned how quickly the role was filled, Alexander’s qualifications and whether the salary – more than twice the mayor’s – is appropriate for the new role.

Alexander’s appointment

The creation of the new Office of Community Safety was part of a plan unveiled by Frey earlier this spring to restructure the city’s government after Minneapolis voters last year approved a ballot measure to switch to a “strong mayor” system, which expanded the mayor’s administrative authority over most city departments and limited the city council to mainly legislative duties. As Community Safety Commissioner, Alexander is one of a new four-member cabinet under the mayor that includes the mayor’s chief of staff, the city attorney and a chief operations officer.

Article continues after advertisement

Alexander, who was initially part of the consulting group brought on by the city to help in its national search for a new police chief, was nominated by Frey for the position last month.

Before coming to Minneapolis, Alexander spent 40 years in various law enforcement and public service roles, including as a deputy chief in Rochester, New York and a member of a task force on 21st Century Policing established by former President Barack Obama. Alexander, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, was also a public safety director in DeKalb, Georgia, a similar job to his new role.

In his new role, Alexander would oversee the police and fire departments, 911 dispatch and emergency management. He would also be in charge of all violence prevention efforts, now under the umbrella of a new neighborhood safety department.

Frey called Alexander’s appointment a “defining step in pushing for a transformation in how we deliver service in Minneapolis” in regards to how the city approaches public safety.

“Our communities have called out for safety, and they’ve called out for change. Commissioner Alexander is now answering that call,” he said in a statement.

One of Alexander’s biggest initial challenges will be dealing with staffing a police department whose ranks have shrunk from its authorized strength of 888 officers to around 560 due to retirements, resignations and disability leaves in the two years since the unrest following George Floyd’s murder by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The city did not respond to multiple requests to make Alexander available for an interview.

“We’re probably not going to see those 200 to 300 officers back any time during the course of my career here or anyone else,” said Alexander during a forum on improving public safety earlier this month at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Alexander said law enforcement agencies nationwide, including Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), have struggled to recruit more officers in recent years. That means the city will have to police differently and supplant those losses with new technology like surveillance cameras and drones, and better relationships with communities citywide, he said.

Article continues after advertisement

Alexander said with the lack of officers and community members calling for more accountability, improving the relationship between the police department and the public will be crucial to lessening crime and keeping communities safe. One way to do that is to boost transparency in how the department does policing, he said.

“We’re not going to see the numbers (of officers) we used to see, communities are holding police a lot more accountable today than what they have in the past. People are asking questions, people are demanding answers,” he said. “We have to open up our agencies to the public so they can see what we’re doing inside.”

Many in the city don’t see the department as a legitimate or trustworthy organization despite its authority, which is a symptom of poor genuine relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police, he said. He hopes to improve that lack of trust by using what community members’ needs to guide how he allocates public safety resources.

Alexander conceded changes are going to take time and be hard to measure, but he said he’s confident his experience and the community’s desire for better policing will help improve public safety in Minneapolis.

“I didn’t come here 1,200 miles from Florida to be complicit. I didn’t come here to do nothing,” Alexander said. “I’m committed to the challenge here but I need this entire community to be committed to the challenge because we do have a challenge in front of us.”

Questions about the role

In a letter to city council members earlier this month, Communities United Against Police Brutality – a local anti-police brutality group that has lobbied city and state officials to pass laws holding police more accountable – detailed several concerns with Alexander’s appointment, including many appointments on boards and organizations that may divert Alexander’s time from his new role, and an affiliation in the form of speeches at conferences with a company that has sold tasers and body worn camera equipment to MPD. 

The group also pointed out that Alexander cut staffing in the internal affairs department when he was in DeKalb County, Georgia, and lamented the lack of both a formal job description and search for candidates for the role, which pays more than double the mayor’s salary. 

“There appears to have been little process toward filling this crucial new position,” the letter reads. “Because this position is not outlined in the city charter, there is apparently no requirement for the city council to even vote on it. Nonetheless, there should have been a more formal process that included defining the requirements for the position and performing a search for the best candidates to meet those requirements.”

Article continues after advertisement

Brenda Short, a 2021 city council candidate and the only person to testify against Alexander’s appointment at a public safety committee meeting earlier this month, said Alexander’s salary of $300,000 – more than twice that of the mayor and now the most of any city employee – is too high for a city dealing with millions in workers compensation claims by officers and settlements following the killings of George Floyd and Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

Short also said a candidate with institutional knowledge of the police department and the issues it’s facing would have been a better fit for the new role.

“The city of Minneapolis doesn’t need a book-smart person to fix the problems. We need a person who has been in this city to fix the problems with the police department,” she said. “I’m not saying he can’t do the job, but he needed to be a part of this city to heal this city.”