Tough questions about a tough job — an interview with MPD’s new chief

Interim Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo (Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Police Department)

An interview with MPD’s new chief

News Analysis

While sitting in the waiting room outside the office of Interim Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, I came across this summer’s issue of Minnesota Police Chief. It couldn’t have contained a more appropriate cover story: “Leading in Turbulent Times.”

Arradondo has landed square in the eye of the controversial hurricane, the MPD’s historic, documented failure. Some people say there is a flat-out refusal to protect and serve people of color as well as the department does for Whites.

According to the prevailing opinion, Mayor Betsy Hodges forced Chief Janeé Harteau out because, instead of business as usual, Justine Damond, an unarmed White woman — specifically a blonde Australian — had been shot by a Black cop, Officer Mohamed Noor. Very public bad blood between Hodges and Harteau had ensued over Hodges scotching Harteau’s pick to head the fourth precinct, and this power play settled that hash for good and all.

It is also characteristic of racist politics, wittingly or otherwise, to use one minority, Arradondo being African American, against another, Harteau being Native American. If the Minneapolis City Council doesn’t ratify Arradondo’s permanency in the position — particularly if someone White gets the nod instead — the resultant hue and cry will exacerbate an already catastrophic state of civil affairs.

Chief Medaria Arradondo sat with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder to discuss, in his customary cordial, yet candid fashion, this situation where national media has taken note.

MSR: There’s speculation your predecessor was scapegoated to take pressure off City Hall. In our recent interview, [“Black Minneapolis native promoted to MPD assistant chief,” MSR July 20] you cited [Harteau’s] initiatives to establish police accountability through a change of culture. Which, after years of being entrenched, hardly happens overnight. How is your leadership the same or different?

Arradondo: All chiefs inherit what comes before. Our leadership styles will [differ] just in the sense that her journey through the MPD was unique to her. [Which] brought many strengths. I don’t pretend to know that journey, especially a female leader in a predominantly male organization, particularly a police department.

My leadership style will be different; my journey has been different. Like her, I have spent almost three decades with the department. But as an African American man, a product of Minneapolis, I see things through [my] lens.

MSR: There’s no saying, other than the mayor’s stated “lack of confidence,” exactly why Chief Harteau was asked to resign. It came immediately, though, after the uproar over Officer Noor shooting Ms. Damond. Why was this the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, costing a distinguished veteran her job?

Arradondo: While I cannot comment on the actual incident, over the last several years communities have been very vocal about how they wish to see the Minneapolis Police Department change. I’ve listened to that.

It’s going to be part of my charge to make sure I bring what I want to do as a leader, what my vision is, in terms of how we can bridge that gap to make [the department’s] relationship with communities much stronger.

MSR: As soon as you made turning on body cameras mandatory, the union called that a knee-jerk reaction, worsening its longstanding reputation as an entity averse to any accountability at all. They’re playing right into the hands of people who feel police want to hide officers’ misconduct.

Arradondo: When an individual goes to a physician, most of us don’t tell the physician, “As you do my check-up, only give me the good news.” If we don’t hear [the bad news] we’ll remain sick or get worse.

As chief, you’re going to take criticism, and that’s fine. But I want the men and women who wear this same badge to know that, like a physician, I’m charged to not do more harm. I’ll never make decisions intentionally trying to harm members of this department or members of our communities.

I strongly believe the body camera policy will help both our officers and our communities to gather evidence and to accurately depict events that occur. It helps with trust.

MSR: It didn’t take long before the usual self-anointed community spokesmen hopped on a soapbox to claim you, saying, “He’s ours,” and demanding you be made permanent in the chief’s position right now. Soon as you make a decision they don’t like, though, they can be counted on to call you a sellout.

Arradondo: I’m humbled that I have the opportunity to be chief of the Minneapolis Police Department. I’m also appreciative of people in the community who support me in that. I will be the chief for the 400,000 citizens who make up this city. That will, of course, be my focus.

At the end of the day, my charge is to protect the public safety of those 400,000 people plus those who visit this town each and every day. My decisions have to be grounded around that: Reducing and preventing crime.

MSR: Be that as it may, there’s no getting around the fact you’re Black. How much did that have to do with your being nominated chief?

Arradondo: So far as my being candidate and being African American, my track record, almost three decades with this organization, speaks for itself. I’ve served on patrol, investigations.

I’ve had the chance to lead men and women in this department. I was assistant chief in charge of running day-to-day operations. My body of work as a professional will guide me as I look forward to leading the MPD.

MSR: How has your family been impacted?

Arradondo: They’ve known for a long time my heart is in it. Their outreach has been very supportive and I’m appreciative of that.

 

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis 55403

Related content:

(Updated) Black Minneapolis native promoted to MPD assistant chief