Youth violence prevention and police recruitment from within Minneapolis communities were the focus of a town hall on the city’s North Side Monday night featuring new Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara.
More than 50 community members gathered at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis to ask questions of O’Hara. The new chief has been attending forums alongside council members around the city in recent months, fielding questions from residents of Ward 13 with Council member Linea Palmisano in December and Ward 3 with Michael Rainville last month before joining LaTrisha Vetaw in Ward 4 Monday night.
Before he was sworn in as Minneapolis’ top cop in November, O’Hara was a former captain of the Newark Police Department (NPD) and later oversaw the city’s entire public safety system as a director. He brings to Minneapolis experience leading the NPD division that worked with the Department of Justice to craft a consent decree between the DOJ and the city of Newark, as Minneapolis negotiates its own consent decree with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and awaits the findings of a similar investigation by the DOJ.
O’Hara succeeds Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first Black chief who led the embattled department during the murder of George Floyd by a then-MPD officer and the ensuing protests and unrest. Arradondo announced he’d be stepping down shortly after a 2021 ballot initiative to dismantle the police department failed, though the measure did win more than 43% of votes.
Residents asked a variety of questions, including what MPD’s role is in combating homelessness and what the department is doing to recruit more officers.
But much of the discussion revolved around the community’s youth — concern over homicides, carjackings and other crimes, as well as how to prevent that violence through outreach and restorative measures.
“What are you doing in the office that you hold where it is properly highlighted what the issues are? Because it’s staggering to me,” said Pastor Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church, referring to the violence in the city in recent years.
One tense exchange followed when an attendee read back to O’Hara a statement he gave during a news conference following the fatal shooting of a Henry high school student while behind the wheel of a stolen car.
In the quote, O’Hara lamented the lack of consequences when juveniles steal cars and are released from custody shortly after being arrested. The resident asked if he means to keep kids incarcerated instead.
“Let me be clear, being locked up is not the solution,” O’Hara said. “But letting these kids know that there are no consequences and releasing them to the street where they get shot and they get killed and nobody cares? That’s outrageous.
“You can’t have a situation where kids learn that nothing happens, there’s no support, there’s no monitoring, there’s no services even when their moms are begging for help.”
Attendees proposed several solutions to prevent youth violence: the revival of a diversion program called Operation de Novo that allowed young offenders to avoid criminal charges and get a fresh start, better partnerships between police and violence prevention groups to do more comprehensive street outreach, and more programs like Bike Cops for Kids and the Police Activities League to make officers more apart of the community.
On recruitment, a resident described how her daughter, a prospective officer of color from within the community, was rejected when trying to become an MPD officer without, she said, any explanation.
O’Hara said he’s working to remove barriers to becoming a police officer and advocating for changes that require legislation. But one change he’s making is to be more involved in the hiring process: no applicant will get rejected until he sees their file and knows why.
“I can say what I’m going to personally do going forward is to make sure that we’re not gonna make the same mistakes,” he said.