Meet the three finalists for Minneapolis police chief

(l-r) Elvin Barren, RaShall Brackney and Brian O’Hara
Submitted photos

The Minneapolis Police Department is poised to tap an outsider police chief for the first time since 2006, culminating a monthslong search for the person who will succeed former chief Medaria Arradondo, who retired in December of 2021. 

The three finalists are: Elvin Barren, police chief of Southfield, Mich., a suburb northwest of Detroit; RaShall Brackney, who was fired from her police chief position in Charlottesville, Va.; and Newark, N.J. Deputy Mayor Brian O’Hara. 

Barron and Brackney are Black, while O’Hara is White. Mayor Jacob Frey is expected to interview each of the candidates in person over the coming weeks.

Elvin Barren

Barren was appointed Southfield’s police chief in 2019 after serving as a deputy police chief for the Detroit Police Department, where he served for 21 years. Before that, he was an operations specialist for the U.S. Navy. At Southfield, he implemented a duty to intervene policy, requiring rank and file to intervene when their colleagues commit wrongdoing. 

He did not run a department without controversy. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage after being punched and tased by one of his police officers who was assaulted by her in June 2020.

While a deputy Detroit chief, he diffused a confrontation between neo-Nazis and those celebrating LGBTQ Pride, although local activists accused the department of protecting the neo-Nazis.

Other than that, little is known about the transformational impact he had on the Detroit and Southfield Police Departments, if any. The MSR couldn’t reach the Southfield Police Union for comment, and activists with Metro Detroit Democratic Socialists of America and Detroit Will Breathe did not respond to requests for comment. The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners also did not respond to requests for his complaint record by press time.

Brian O’Hara

O’Hara is currently deputy mayor of Newark. Before that he was public safety director, which oversaw the city’s police and fire departments. In both jobs, he oversaw implementing a consent decree addressing racist policing between the Newark Police Department and the Department of Justice, which included having its police officers participate in emotionally vulnerable conversations with community members.

He also served the Newark Police Department for 20 years, from 2001 to 2021. The City was unable to comment on or furnish any complaints O’Hara had as a Newark police officer by press time.  

In July, O’Hara was commended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for enhancing working relationships with federal, state and local police and prosecutors, which they credit for decreasing officer-involved shootings year-over-year.

Jeff Weber, who is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Newark Lodge No. 12 and was a classmate of O’Hara’s when they were both in the police academy, attested to his work ethic, approachability, and fairness in handling the consent decree. 

“​​He held us to high standards to be professional, [the] best we could be, and that’s what the civilians deserved. But then on top of that, we witnessed him amongst community leaders, religious leaders, council people, business, he really wore many hats. And he did it really well,” said Weber. 

The MSR reached out to several Newark-area social justice organizations to learn about their experience with O’Hara but have not heard back.

RaShall Brackney

Down south, Brackney was appointed chief of Charlottesville’s police in 2018 months after the city was ravaged by a White Supremacist riot that its police force did a poor job managing, according to reports. She is also a visiting professor at George Mason University and was the police chief for George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She served as a police officer in Pittsburgh from 2000 to 2015.

Her tenure in Charlottesville was tumultuous amid ongoing racial disparities in policing and incarceration. Before she was chief, police were more likely to stop and frisk Blacks than Whites, and Blacks were more likely to be imprisoned than Whites.

Police mistrust over racial profiling carried over to Brackney’s tenure. According to C-ville Weekly, in December 2020, Brackney called on a local church and advocacy groups to apologize to the department for wrongfully accusing it of racism, which stemmed from an incident involving a Black church member who was stopped by five police officers, one of whom was Black, who accused them of committing a series of burglaries. 

Her tenure ended when she was fired in September 2021 amid decreasing morale after she disbanded the city’s SWAT team. Brackney is currently suing several police officers, as well as City leadership. She was one of three Black women on a force that is 90% White. 

“I think a Black woman in particular was going to get a lot of pushback from a department like the one that we have here,” said Slocum. “I do not know that anyone could have been effective with the way things had gotten with the city and this particular police department.”

It is unclear if she received citizen complaints during her tenure in Pittsburgh, as their Citizen Police Review Board holds confidential all complaints unless it goes before a public hearing. 

How were they chosen?

The finalists were chosen after Minneapolis engaged a national search firm and appointed a committee that comprised two city council members—Andrea Jenkins and Latrisha Vetaw—as well as Bishop Richard D. Howell of Shiloh Temple Ministries, Karin Birkeland of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Lisa Clemons of A Mother’s Love, Chanda Smith Baker of the Minneapolis Foundation, Mike Goze of the Native American Community Development Institute, Sara Jones of the Great North Innocence Project, Susana de Leon of the law firm De Leon, Nestor, and Torres, retired assistant Minneapolis police chief Greg Hestness, Chief Financial Officer of Investment Bank Piper Sander Tim Carter, and Emma Pederson of the Minneapolis Youth Congress. 

The person ultimately nominated and confirmed will replace Arradondo. Although Interim Chief Amelia Huffman did not advance to the final round of interviews and can still be nominated to the position by Mayor Jacob Frey, a spokesperson for Frey said he plans to respect the search process and not nominate her. 

Minneapolis is not the only police force in the Twin Cities looking for a chief. St. Paul, whose chief Todd Axtell retired in June, is currently reviewing applications and plans to select up to five finalists for Mayor Melvin Carter to consider. The process may involve community engagement. 

Metro Transit Police is also looking for a police chief after former chief Eddie Frizell became the U.S. Marshall for the District of Minnesota in April. The Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, is preparing to begin soliciting applications for the position.