In 2021, Minneapolis voters approved a new form of city government, which explicitly defined the mayor as the city’s chief executive officer. Mayor Jacob Frey’s new government structure now has four people reporting directly to him on city administration. One of them is the commissioner of the Office of Community Safety.
The newly created Office of Community Safety is responsible for five departments—the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), the Minneapolis Fire Department (MFD), Emergency Management, 911 emergency communications, and the newly created Neighborhood Safety. All five department heads report directly to Dr. Cedric Alexander, the city’s first public safety commissioner, who was hired and sworn into office last August.
Since his swearing-in last summer, Alexander has endured criticism over his qualifications, his salary, and unfortunately his part in a brief but heated exchange on Twitter with some of his critics. He later apologized for it.
Sitting in his City Hall office, Alexander recently talked about being on the job for less than a year and the challenges of his new role. Since his title is public safety commissioner, most people have seemed focused on the city’s policing woes and what he is going to do about them.
But he also wants everyone to know that his office is responsible for five departments, not just the MPD. One of Alexander’s biggest challenges is ongoing staffing shortages in many of the city’s community safety departments.
The Minneapolis Fire Department hopes to hire an additional 15 firefighters as part of the federal SAFER grant the city received last year. In addition, the city’s National Incident Management System (NIMS) will include dozens of preparedness trainings for Emergency Management leadership and staff. Also, several call takers and dispatchers are expected to be hired in the 911 communications center in the coming months.
The new Neighborhood Safety department is actively participating in the Biden administration’s Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC). The MPD, which recently hired a new police chief, is still reeling from a staffing shortage that has shrunk the force by almost 300 officers and civilians due to retirements, resignations, and other causes since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
In December, the MPD released statistics that indicate a record number of firearms were taken off the street in 2022. The MPD confiscated 1,097 guns, two more than the 1,095 guns recovered in 2020 and a 5.3 percent increase over the number of guns confiscated in 2021.
Operation Endeavor is a new public safety strategy designed to increase collaboration among law enforcement, prosecutors, and community groups. It was established last year to focus on five areas of the city—Cedar-Riverside, the East Lake Street corridor, West Lake Street, North Minneapolis and Downtown.
In January, the city’s Office of Community Safety released its 90-day report, which analyzed data from Sept. 27 through Dec. 17, 2022, in the three categories most representative of gun-related violence. The results showed a decrease in violent crime across the board: gun-related violent crime was down over 38 percent from 2021; gunshot wound victims were down nearly 30 percent from 2021; and carjackings were down 65 percent from 2021.
Before arriving in Minneapolis, Alexander spent 40-plus years in various law enforcement and public service roles, including deputy chief in Rochester, New York; public safety director in DeKalb County, Georgia; and as a member of a task force on 21st century policing established by former President Barack Obama.
“This will be my 46th year in law enforcement,” said Alexander. “Do I have a handle on this whole concept of policing? I would tell you probably not, because it’s constantly evolving.
“When I look back over the course of my career prior to coming here, having held a number of leadership positions, and having been out of the profession three-and-a-half years before I came back, I’m coming back into a very unique situation.
“I’m coming into a community that still has hurt and pain and anger and sadness. So, for me, it’s trying to make sure that I’m connecting with every part of this community,” said Alexander.
However, recruiting more police officers for Minneapolis is not easy, noted Alexander. “We have just got to find new ways to attract young people into this profession. We have to be more thoughtful. We have got to be more energetic. We also have to have the willingness to understand that as technology is evolving, we have got to take this technology now to help us supplant the shortages in police officers that we have.”
Alexander stressed the need for effective community policing that serves all people, especially Black people and people of color. “More importantly than anything else that we know, we’ve learned over the last number of years that we’ve got to build those relationships in our community.
“We’re going to be constitutional. We’re going to be legal, and we’re going to be respectful,” pledged Alexander. “But in order to move forward, we have to have the willingness to help and work with our local law enforcement.
“This is not just a police department that sits over here by itself as some type of clandestine operation. This has to be a police department, quite frankly, that belongs to the people.”
The public safety commissioner admits that he is still new to Minneapolis and just settling in. “I’m still learning this community,” he admitted. “There’s no way you can have a grasp of a community in six months, or a year, or two years.
“I was invited to come here to help make a difference,” said Alexander. “And I want to try to make as much of a difference as I can. But I can’t do it by myself. It takes an entire community to do this.”