On many of the issues facing the city of Minneapolis and its police department, mayoral candidate Tom Hoch says he is taking a systematic approach. That is, he wants the opportunity to assess the police department — to see what is working and what isn’t — once he takes office.
“I’m not the mayor,” the former head of the Hennepin Theatre Trust said during an interview on policing and crime this week. “But the first thing I’ll do as mayor is a top-to-bottom review of the police department to identify where we’re doing well and where we’re not doing well. What needs to be fixed and how we’ll go about fixing it.”
But on one issue, Hoch needs no more time for study: He doesn’t think the city should amend its charter — as some council members have suggested — to give the City Council more say over the operations of the police department.
“No,” Hoch said. “There’s a pretty clear line in the sand with me on that one.”
Minneapolis has diffused power between the mayor and the council who share oversight of a city coordinator. But the mayor retains direct control over public safety once the council appoints the mayor’s nominee for police chief.
After the shooting of Justine Damond by a Minneapolis police officer, Council Member Andrew Johnson suggested the council have more say in police operations.
Hoch thinks that’s a bad idea. “We can’t have a police chief who is running a police department who is trying to chase every whim of a council member,” he said. “It’s completely inconsistent with the command structure a police department needs to have. Who’s accountable then?”
Culture problems — or a lack of supervision?
Among the things that Hoch said he would want to assess is culture — whether the MPD has a toxic culture that is immune to reform, as some have accused. “Organizations do develop cultures, that’s for sure,” he said. “Who’s setting the tone for the culture in the police department? We need to find that out.”
Wasn’t the recent audit of the police use of body-worn cameras, which showed the low usage of cameras by officers, evidence of a bias against reform? “I don’t think you can just say that’s a cultural thing,” Hock said. “It may show up as that, but that seems to be a problem with supervision and accountability.”
It could be that a patrol officer who is promoted doesn’t necessarily know how to manage and supervise, he said. “If there are policies on the beat that were never enforced, that’s the story you take with you, sort of the lore of the police department that policies are just recommendations. But if nobody has ever broken the cycle, it wouldn’t surprise me that that’s the story inside.”
Hoch said he has had good experiences with new Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, leading back to when Hoch was the deputy director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and Arradondo was assigned to the MPHA. Arradondo also was the inspector of the department’s 1st Precinct, covering downtown Minneapolis, when Hoch was running the Hennepin Theater Trust.
“I’ve had a very positive impression of Rondo,” Hoch said, using the chief’s nickname, “and I want him to succeed; I hope that he succeeds.”
But Hoch said he would use the first six months in office to evaluate the chief to “see if I believe his is capable of carrying out my directives.” Arradondo’s term as chief expires one year into the next mayor’s term when he can be removed or nominated for a second term, subject to City Council approval.
Hoch said he would like some in the next level of department management to come from outside the department. So far, Arradondo’s selections have all been department veterans. After saying that he isn’t passing judgment on those appointees, Hoch said: “I don’t know if we can have the next layer down be all representatives of the police department if we’re looking for cultural change. If we want a cultural change and we’ve had individuals who have spent their entire career in the department, that doesn’t seem like a dynamic that will support change.”
‘When someone is breaking the law, there have to be consequences’
Hoch responded to a question about accusations that the department’s officers are too quick to use excessive force with another question: “Do we have the right level of training for critical incidents?”
“Anytime we have individuals [officers] who are armed, our obligation is to make sure they have the level of training that they need. If it requires 40 hours of training rather than eight or 16, if we don’t have individuals who are the best qualified to do the training, we’re going to see it show up in a lot of unintended ways — unfortunate ways.”
Hoch lamented the growth in gun violence in the city, especially in north Minneapolis and, increasingly, in parts of downtown. He said his response would be multipronged, including law enforcement as well as a social services response.
“We’ve been talking about the police department but there is a whole range of things that go on there in terms of diversion, education, employment,” he said. “That’s why I talk about employment all the time because we need to create choices for people. Because if there aren’t really choices and someone picks up a gun, then we have to deal with that.”
But Hoch quickly added that criminal activity must be met with a law enforcement response. “Nothing undermines safety and security of a neighborhood more than the notion that people can do whatever they want in the neighborhood and there are no repercussions for that. Do we have a whole suite of ways to provide employment and training and education? Absolutely. But when someone is breaking the law, there have to consequences.”
Addressing downtown safety
Hoch has special knowledge of downtown crime issues, having spent 17 years as president of the theater trust, which owns and operates three historic theaters on Hennepin Avenue. Last year, he also was chair of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. “I’m the candidate who has actually worked downtown for many years,” he said. “I’ve dealt with patrons coming to the theater. I’ve been on the Downtown Council. So I have an understanding of the way an unsafe environment impacts business.”
“Sometimes it’s perception,” he said of safety concerns. “But increasingly it seems to be reality that’s driving that perception.”
“It isn’t solely criminal justice,” Hoch said. “Some people are there because they don’t have any place else to be. They don’t have any money. They don’t have anyplace to go and Hennepin and 1st seem like relatively safe destinations. But it doesn’t make the space feel safe.”
He said he would bring in the business community, social service agencies as well as representatives from city, county and state governments to come up with ideas. Hoch was instrumental in creating a program called “5 to 10 on Hennepin” which tried to provide activities once a week including a music stage, chess tables, artist tables, a children’s play area. “How do we engage individuals so they continue to feel safe and everybody feels welcome?” he asked.
Some who populate Hennepin aren’t there with good intentions, Hoch acknowledges. He said on the nights when “5 to 10” was active, it was easier to identify those people and gave police the opportunity to intervene in actual lawbreaking rather than simply move people around and along.
Hoch was critical of a downtown safety initiative launched by Mayor Betsy Hodges along with the Downtown Council, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and YouthLink. Unveiled in the spring, the plan called for increasing police presence on Hennepin as well enhancing the number of Downtown Improvement District Ambassadors who engage people who frequent the streets. Hoch was among those who asked the city to act. “I helped draft the letter that went to her office because property owners, business owners, were coming to me because they were so frustrated with the city,” he said.
“Has it worked?” he asked of the plan. “You can have all the plans in the world but if they aren’t effective, you have to change them up. You have to stay on it. You have to be intentional about resolving the issue.”
A related issue surrounds late night in the Warehouse District, especially at bar closing time. “Late night drives a lot of the perception of downtown and whether or not it’s safe,” Hoch said.
He said he would be willing to extend bar closing hours or even eliminate them in order to spread out the time of departure of bar patrons. He supports changing ordinances to allow food trucks to operate later in certain parts of downtown and said the city should look at providing reasons for people to be in the district earlier in the evening “so they’re not showing up at midnight to get into a bar until 2. They’re not really ready to go home yet so they’re hanging out around downtown.”
Hoch said he discovered during his frequent meetings with voters around the city that downtown safety is an issue everywhere. “It doesn’t matter what living room I’m standing in, in what part of the city,” he said. “The same issue of safety downtown rears its head. That was a little bit of a surprise to me. It reminded me that people don’t have a tolerance for a lack of safety and they will stay away from a place that feels unsafe.”
Hoch said he has talked to “more than one employer” who said they are waiting for the downtown leases to expire so they can leave the core. “That’s unacceptable,” he said. “We can’t survive as a downtown if businesses are fleeing.”
But he also acknowledged that other businesses have chosen to move downtown, and mentioned the new Mayo Clinic as an example. “So, do we have a responsibility to reinforce the notion that they made the right decision?” he asked.