Over 200 people gathered Monday evening at the Civic Plaza Center for the Arts in Bloomington to see and be a part of history as Booker T. Hodges was sworn in as the city of Bloomington’s first Black police chief.
Governor Tim Walsh and Attorney General Keith Ellison were in attendance, along with law enforcement officials, family, longtime friends, coaches, and activists.
On this evening, a man who endured some of the most adverse circumstances in North Minneapolis was to step into a role that most would consider one of the pinnacles of any position in the city—police chief.
The well-decorated and highly experienced Hodges was the top choice in a national search for Bloomington police chief. Most recently, he was the assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) where he oversaw the Minnesota Patrol, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division.
Prior to his position at DPS, he served as chief of police in Prior Lake, undersheriff at Ramsey County, and sergeant at the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office.
After being sworn in, Chief Hodges gave an emotional speech detailing the stages in his life, the hurdles he had overcome, and the various people that helped him along the way.
“The mere fact that I am here in front of you today is a testament to the power of belief,” Hodges said. “I grew up in a poor household where there was love and abuse. I grew up in a neighborhood where we believed making it to the age of 18 was the end of our life, because none of us expected to live past that if we were to believe what we saw on TV.
“I personally never believed that,” he continued. “The Lord sent people into my life who believed in
me. He put people in my life who didn’t feel sorry for me. He put people in my life who really believed I could do something. Having people around me who believed in me helped me believe in humanity.”
Among the people he credited with helping him succeed included a camp counselor who gave him a job cutting branches with a power chainsaw when he was only 8 years old and his grandmother who “believed in a 12-year-old kid to make decisions about where his mother—who had lost her life to domestic violence—was to be buried. I was that 12-year-old kid,” he shared with the crowd.
Sniffles and tears continued when John Harrington, DPS commissioner, and Hodges’ former supervisor, gave a heartfelt speech thanking Chief Hodges for his service to the state of Minnesota.
“I want you to understand how thankful I am to you,” Harrington said. “I often asked you to do the impossible, and you made it look easy. No one has ever seen the Department of Public Safety reach out to the community the way you did.”
Most notably, Harrington singled out Hodges’ vital contributions to quelling the unrest and restoring order to the Twin Cities at the height of the riots following George Floyd’s murder.
“When the fires raised in Minneapolis, and I needed someone to go in and take control, take command and lead in uncharted waters … I asked this young man to do it,” Harrington. “He stepped forward with courage, with grace, with decisiveness.”
Chief Hodges will lead a 157-member department, which has an authorized staff of 123 sworn officers. During his speech, Hodges praised the officers he was chosen to lead. “I believe these public servants represent the very best in society. I believe these public servants can overcome anything. Why do I believe? Because God gives his harshest assignments and toughest exams to his best students.”
The entire room erupted in applause.
Travis Lee is a contributing photographer and writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.com.