Mayor Jacob Frey’s nominee for the next Minneapolis police chief pledged in a September 29 press conference to remake the city’s beleaguered police department into the “golden standard for policing” across the nation.
Frey intends to nominate current Deputy Mayor of Newark Brian O’Hara for his experience in addressing a consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Newark Police Department, which reportedly rebuilt trust in Newark police but also was able, in Frey’s words, to “drive down crime in a serious way.”
O’Hara became a Newark police officer in 2001, ultimately becoming captain. Little is known about what disciplinary actions he was subject to, as the City of Newark denied the MSR’s request for his disciplinary records on grounds that it would violate New Jersey law.
In 2016, he was appointed public safety commissioner. During his tenure, the Newark Police Department deployed a controversial system affording anyone unfettered access to its surveillance camera system installed throughout the city.
His work overseeing the consent decree process required bringing local community groups on to keep their communities safe. One of the groups he worked with is the Newark Community Street Team, which trains people, including former gang members, in conflict resolution, de-escalation, first aid, and access to the police dispatch system.
“He understands community-based public safety as a complementary strategy to policing,” said Aqeela Sherrills, president and board chair of the Newark Community Street Team. “Cats like O’Hara [are] the future of policing in this country.”
He is also well-regarded by the Newark police union, with Fraternal Order of Police Newark Lodge No. 12 President Jeff Weber saying he works well with people. “He held us to high standards to be professional, [the] best we could be, and that’s what the civilians deserved,” said Weber.
“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.”
Locally, the southside-based Unity Community Mediation Team, which was represented by Lisa Clemons on the MPD Chief search committee, wrote a letter congratulating the mayor on his nomination. The search committee chair, the Rev. Ian Bethel, said in a statement, “The Unity Community Mediation Team is honored to have been represented on your Chief’s search committee…and we look forward to the unfolding confirmation process. Be assured the UCMT is fully committed to the Police Community Relations Council process and the strengthening of relationships between our communities and the MPD.”
Before the press conference concluded, O’Hara, who Mayor Frey said is committed to living in Minneapolis, issued a plea to Minneapolis residents—particularly those who believe in abolishing the police—to work with him.
“Policing is a collaborative effort. It’s not just about law enforcement. We need every community member who is willing to have their voice heard to partner with us in this effort,” said O’Hara, adding he intends to make Minneapolis police an example of how policing should be across the nation. “We will build an MPD that is so good that people of all races and backgrounds will want to be a part of this positive change.”
If confirmed by the city council, O’Hara may begin serving in November.
H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏 (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is a Minneapolis-based introverted freelance journalist who reports primarily on their lifelong passion: transportation issues. Find them on a bus of all types, the sidewalk, bike lane, hiking trail or perhaps the occasional carshare vehicle, camera and perhaps watercolor set or mushroom brush in tow, in your community or state or regional park regardless of season. If you can’t find them, they’re probably cooking, writing, curating an archive of wall art or brochures, playing board games, sewing or cuddling with their cat. Follow on Twitter: @h_pan3 or Instagram: @hpphmore or on Mastodon: @firstname.lastname@example.org.