“To Protect with Courage, To Serve with Compassion!” –MPD motto
In 1989, former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, affectionately referred to by his family and friends as “Rondo,” became a rookie Minneapolis police officer. In 2007, he and four other African American officers sued the MPD, alleging discrimination in promotions, pay and discipline. The lawsuit was settled by the city, and in 2012, Arradondo was promoted to head of Internal Affairs, the unit responsible for investigating officer misconduct.
Over the next few years, Arradondo gradually moved up the ranks to deputy chief of police. In 2017, Arradondo made history when he became the first Black police officer to be named chief of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). It was a role he served in until he retired in January 2022, after 32 years in law enforcement.
Since then, he has remained largely out of public sight, save for his appointment earlier this year to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners.
Arradondo’s biggest challenge came in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd by White police officer Derek Chauvin and the ensuing unrest in Minneapolis and protests around the world. Arradondo immediately fired the officers involved as well as Chauvin, but he became the public face in news conferences—along with Mayor Jacob Frey—and afterward, during the Chauvin trial, of police brutality and racial injustice, and the need for police reform.
Recently, the Department of Justice released its findings, which covered the period under former Chief Arradondo’s leadership. Among the troubling findings was that “MPD officers stopped Black and Native American people six times more often than White people, and stopped collecting racial data for the people they stopped after May 25, 2020.”
With that as the backdrop, MSR recently spoke with former chief Arradondo (MA) about his career in law enforcement, working in the very community where he grew up. The interview took place over several days and included some very pointed questions, to which former chief Arradondo gave some somewhat guarded answers.
MSR: Now that you are retired, tell me what comes to mind as you reflect on your 30-plus years with the Minneapolis Police Department?
MA: Man, I would say, you know, the biggest thing was just the people. I am a product born and raised in the community. It was just a blessing and an honor to serve a city that has given me so much. It is the same community that I grew up in and went to Minneapolis public schools and I knew my neighbors.
MSR: Did you ever encounter any dangerous situations, like shootouts?
MA: I would have to say that in my 32 years I witnessed more good things than anything else. You know “we,” the big collective—meaning Minneapolitans—whether you are from the North Side or the South Side, you know we come together in times of need. And that is a part of our collective spirit. Whether you grew up knowing the Jenkins, the Thomas or Robinson family, that is who we are to our core. When I look back, I see all the good this city had.
MSR: What are those things you regret that you were unable to accomplish during your tenure as MPD chief?
MA: Every leader knows that you are always dealing with a finite [time] period. You know, I used to always say that my two biggest challenges as chief were timing and communications. Timing, meaning that people on the inside of the organization say, “You know Rondo, you are moving too fast.” And for the people on the outside, they were saying, “Rondo, you are moving too slow.” So you only have a finite period.
MSR: Given that you had a finite time period, how long were you chief?
MA: From 2017 to 2022. And so, yes there is always going to be something at the end of the day that you did not complete, that project that you wish you would have been able to finish. But you stay focused. You stay committed. You stay determined, and you do the best that you can.
You also try to make sure you surround yourself with people who you know you can hand off the baton. You also must realize that the work is never going to be complete in your term. It is always evolving and it’s always growing.
MSR: Okay, I’ll ask you this way. What if everyone from the mayor, fellow officers, and the police union agreed to give full support for anything you wanted to do just before you retired. What would it be?
MA: I’m all about hope. I’m all about doing what I can to instill hope. If I had the total support for all invested stakeholders, it would be to create tables for young people in our community. So that we could build ongoing relationships, specifically with the police department. These tables would involve listening, meaning the adults. Yep, asking young people for creative solutions to the issues with which they are dealing.
I have often said that the greatest gift our young people can give police departments is the benefit of the doubt. Just enough of a relationship with a connection to them, such that even when terrible things happen, or even when challenging things happen, they will at least pause to give you the benefit of the doubt, to resolve this, because they learned to count on us.
MSR: As Minneapolis’ first Black police chief, what was it like to be caught between an angry Black community and a police department that became a symbol of racism and police brutality with the murder of George Floyd?
MA: For me growing up in this community, I had a particularly good understanding of years of grievances and trauma that our Black community has experienced. So, I do not believe there is one thing. It has been historical. So, in that sense, I had a particularly good understanding of the cumulative experiences.
These are issues and concerns that I was not just privy to or started to work on in 2017, when I became chief. There are things and stories that I experienced as a kid growing up in Minneapolis, even as an officer working towards how we best resolve those things.
For me, any anger was not [directed at] me. [It was] just one flashpoint. It was this cumulative experience and historical trauma, even generationally. I also think that because of being a child and a product of Minneapolis, that helped me to listen better and build alliances to navigate the best that I could, in terms of a public safety standpoint, to get us to a place of dialogue and healing.
MSR: Do you feel that the murder of George Floyd will define your history as the MPD police chief?
MA: I think that history and time will determine how I am defined in law enforcement, for 32 years and as chief for five of those years.
MSR: How do you think your MPD career will be judged?
MA: That is something I have no control over. When you are doing the job, you don’t have the time or luxury to take an extended pause to ask, “How will I be judged about this moment?” Things are moving in real-time, and you have a responsibility to manage the safety of the city. No leader gets to choose a crisis. But you do get to pick how you manage it.
MSR: Why did you decide to walk away from your role as police chief? Did it have anything to do with the George Floyd murder?
MA: Just for clarity, George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, and my official last day was January 15, 2022. So obviously, it was a year and a half later. It was just time to move on after 32 years. I’m a firm believer that we should always have fresh new ideas.
MSR: Do you think police reform within the MPD is possible?
MA: Absolutely, I believe transformational change can occur, but I think it will have its greatest success when it is a collaborative relationship between both police and community. We serve the people.
MSR: What have you been doing since retirement from the MPD?
MA: I’m honored and proud to be a part of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Board). MPHA and its residents are near and dear to me. As a young officer, I worked with the MPHA enforcement team. During that time, we were trying to deal with problems caused when the crack cocaine epidemic hit hard. There were issues where people were taking advantage of the residents of public housing and making it difficult for families to live there. I’m doing some work again with the MPHA board now, and it is very rewarding.
I am also a part of The Fentanyl Free Coalition in Minneapolis. It is a group of individuals focused on saving lives. We are trying to bring educational awareness and prevention, regarding the heavy toll that fentanyl overdose deaths have caused in our communities.