O’Hara moves closer to becoming next Minneapolis police chief

Photo by Henry Pan Brian O’Hara answers questions at the Minneapolis City Council Public Health & Safety Committee hearing.

The Minneapolis City Council Public Health & Safety Committee unanimously voted to advance the appointment of Newark Deputy Mayor Brian O’Hara to police chief after questioning by councilmembers and skepticism from some public comments. 

O’Hara, standing at the hearing on Oct. 26 in a suit, tie and sneakers inside the council chambers at Minneapolis City Hall, said how humbled he was by the support from Minneapolis residents. 

He recently retired from his position as deputy mayor of Newark, where he oversaw the public safety division. He worked his way up from his start as a police officer in 2001, and along the way oversaw a $244 million budget, navigated a consent decree with local community members, built positive relationships with citizens and allowed them unfettered access to its surveillance cameras.

“He’s an inclusive leader. He’s a forward thinker and a person of the highest moral caliber and integrity,” said Mayor Jacob Frey on his decision to nominate O’Hara in the council chambers. 

During the hearing, O’Hara was grilled by councilmembers eager to understand how he would work with them and what changes he would make when confirmed.

Councilmember Robin Wonsley asked him about working on the police contract that expires at the end of the year. O’Hara supports involving the community in devising the contract. “I think a lot of officers would be surprised that a lot of folks from the community will advocate with them to ensure that they have the proper health and safety and resources that they need during their work,” said O’Hara. 

Wonsley and Councilmember Jason Chavez also asked him about his plans for the Third Precinct. O’Hara responded by saying he first started at a precinct where the Newark Rebellion began, and how he ultimately closed it. “One thing I do believe is that the residents of that precinct should be able to access their police officers geographically close to where they live,” said O’Hara.

Councilmember Chavez also asked what O’Hara planned to achieve in his first 90 days in office, to which he responded that he needs to learn more about the community and rank and file first. Wonsley also asked if O’Hara would support implementing a policy removing officers exhibiting racist behavior, to which he said he does. 

Photo by Henry Pan Brian O’Hara speaks with Imaam Sheikh Sa’ad Musse Roble (r), who congratulates him for his nomination.

Later in the meeting, Councilmember Aisha Chugtai asked O’Hara how he plans to listen to constituents who disagree with him. “It is absolutely essential for the police to be present and give voice to those who disagree with us,” said O’Hara. That’s absolutely been a part of what has made change in Newark possible.” 

O’Hara was also asked by Councilmember Linea Palmisano if he plans to offer bonuses for new and lateral hires, which he does not necessarily support. “I think the officers that did not take the easy way out that remain are more likely to be committed to the change that the community wants,” said O’Hara. “I think it’s more than just financial incentives. I think we need to build up our own ranks, to have our officers’ morale enhanced to have them feel like they are a part of something positive.”

Aside from those aligned with downtown interests and the police, some community members, including anti-violence activist and Unity Community Mediation Team member Al Flowers, expressed disappointment that Interim Chief Amelia Huffman was not considered for the role. Flowers attended the hearing and filmed O’Hara responding to questions levied by councilmembers.

“[Huffman] did the work … in the community, working with the NAACP, working with the [Unity Community] Mediation Team … and then with the politics, wouldn’t let [Mayor Frey] do the right thing … because everybody was saying we want some different,” said Flowers after the hearing ended, adding that she was one of the greatest interim chiefs. 

Others, including Keith McCarron, were skeptical that O’Hara could change anything. “I can’t imagine what you’re stepping into,” said McCarron, adding the police department did not change despite “25 million people in 550 cities around the world [rising] up in howling rage against the brutal nine minute plus lynching of a man.

“I hope you do well, but I don’t have high expectations,” continued McCarron.

The full city council will consider appointing O’Hara on Nov. 3. 

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