Editor’s note: This story was published prior to the July 21 announcement by Mayor Betsy Hodges that she would be nominating Medaria Arradondo to become the Minneapolis Police Chief, following former Police Chief Janee Harteau’s resignation. The city council’s executive committee approval would be required to make Arradondo Minneapolis’ first Black police chief, at least on an interim basis. We hope to do a follow-up story in light of the news.
An interview with 30-year police veteran Medaria Arradondo
While interviewing Minneapolis Police Department Assistant Chief Medaria Arradondo at Pow Wow Grounds coffee shop, before we could sit down, customers interrupted to pose for photographs with him. Attention like that says something about how well he’s regarded in the community.
In April, the Minneapolis native and veteran of the MPD for nearly 30 years was promoted from deputy chief/chief of staff, having logged a strong record of service with the MPD and outside the department. Arradondo has served with the Police Community Relations Council, the State Council on Black Minnesotans, the African American Men’s Project and the Minnesota Criminal Justice Project.
When the MSR asked MPD Chief Janeé Harteau why Arradondo was chosen for the job, Harteau replied, “Assistant Chief Arradondo is a great fit for this position. He has a perfect combination of integrity and commitment, and his years of service have earned him a tremendous amount of respect within the MPD and throughout the city.
“I ask my officers to treat people how they would like to see a family member treated,” Harteau said, “and ‘Rondo’ exemplifies that with each and every person he comes in contact with.” She added that Arradondo has thrived in the new role with many different responsibilities.
“We asked him to lead many discussions that are at times difficult to have regarding department policies, race relations, and how we respond in times of crisis. Rondo is forwarding our mission of increasing public trust every single day. [He] brings incredible leadership and community building skills to this position.”
Once we got seated, our interview with Arradondo (MA) went like this:
MSR: We understand the chief didn’t just rubber stamp you for this promotion.
MA: In some agencies, when a position comes open they say, ‘Well, you’re next in line. Chief Harteau wanted the right person who understands and believes in the MPD culture change, whose vision contributes to [a] mission. It’s not about having a warm body fill a slot or have yes-people.
This isn’t only at upper levels, [but] front-line supervisors leading the message to officers on the ground. That’s where she’s been very intentional about the direction she wants to take this department in. That’s where a lot of leaders have missed it.
MSR: What culture change?
MA: Culture change in the police department historically has been counting numbers: how many arrests, homicides. If the public isn’t complaining, we’re doing a great job. Twenty years ago that was how police chiefs measured success.
Chief Harteau said, “No, that’s not how you measure. You can have shootings and homicides in your community. If you don’t trust the police department, men and women serving you, that can mean more than the actual crime occurring in the community.
The same way, you could have zero crime. If you don’t trust and have a relationship with the people who’re coming to help you, [statistics] don’t matter. It’s about how people view and perceive the police department. Positive community contact.
About three years ago, the Department of Justice launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.
MSR: Which met with considerable skepticism.
MA: Chief Harteau and many of our communities have said that feds come in, give us a shiny toy, the Minneapolis police embraces it. The feds go away, the box gets checked and it’s done. [She] said, “We’re not going to just check the box.”
By the way, there weren’t only community skeptics. In the MPD, we’ve seen these things come and go. Chief Harteau cut the umbilical cord. She said, “We’re going to make it a full-time unit.”
It’s MPD procedure of justice now. We own this. We are accountable. It’s important for that to be part of our DNA.
MSR: On one hand, like anyone else, you punch in at your job. On the other, in a climate characterized by police action against Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Trayvon Martin and more across this nation, your particular place of employment means you’re someone Black wearing that badge and gun. In fact, high up the ladder that’s a strong dynamic you can’t help but be conscious of when you leave home and go to work.
MA: I’ve had experiences as an African American male of bias against me for my color long before I joined the MPD. There’s also a history [to] acknowledge — we’re celebrating the 150th year since the department’s inception.
We’ve done tremendous things over the years, but we recognize our service to communities — at times communities of color specifically — has not always been professional. The community hasn’t always seen us a trustworthy. And with all the things we’re doing today, that has not been erased.
We have a blueprint, but the work must continue. The job has to be done. If anything, when I put on this uniform, [I know] what people have gone through.
MSR: Anything else on that?
MA: This department is not colorblind. Bringing in officers who reflect the population we serve gives the force diversity. By having officers of color, having women, officers who can speak a different language, respects the fabric of the community.
MSR: Diversity, LGBT inclusion, multilingual officers, that’s fine. But, if the whole MPD were lily-White and rectified past injustice, wouldn’t that have to be more important? It has to be, doesn’t it, about as Martin Luther King said, the content of a cop’s character? Integrity.
Being a cop of color, a woman, whatever, does not make them immune to abusing authority. That you, yourself, are Black isn’t nearly as significant as your track record in law enforcement. Documented integrity. Without patting yourself on the back, how important is that?
MA: It’s everything. If there’s a name to put on our currency with the community it’s how every officer interacts. That’s all you’ve got. I’ve said to academy classes, “You get a ton of equipment to wear, the badge and everything else. One thing we don’t give you is the benefit of the doubt. You have to earn that with the community, through your character. If you lose that, you may never repair it, may never get that back.
MSR: Being in your shoes must be difficult, complicated, any way you slice it. On one side some will grouse, “The only way he rose this far this fast, he’s a sellout.” On the other it’s, “He’s an affirmative action token.” How do you deal with that?
MA: You have to not let that noise distract you from your focus. There’s too much important work to do. There really is. And I don’t have the luxury or time to reflect on [others’] perceptions. At the end of the day, I have to look at myself in the mirror.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader response at firstname.lastname@example.org.