Nominee for police chief pledges to rebuild trust

Questions about officer training and accountability linger after July police shooting

Arradondo. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Days after the apparent successor to former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau pledged to repair the department’s relationship with the community, a town hall meeting in the Fulton neighborhood demonstrated just how much trust has eroded since a police officer shot and killed a woman in that neighborhood in July.

Invited to Lake Harriet United Methodist Church by Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano, more than 150 people filled the pews for the Aug. 2 listening session, directing pointed questions about police training and officer accountability to a panel that included members of both the Police Conduct Oversight Commission and the Office of Police Conduct Review. The panelists were put on the defensive by members of the audience who questioned whether the city’s system for civilian oversight of police could effectively shift the culture of a department described as overly aggressive, militarized and out of touch with the community they are sworn to protect.

Palmisano said she did not invite any representatives of the department because some of her constituents had expressed discomfort with the presence of uniformed officers following the July 21 shooting death of Justine Damond, 40, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. Officer Mohamed Noor, who responded to the call with his partner, shot Damond through the patrol car window when she approached the vehicle. She died at the scene, in the alley behind the 51st & Washburn home she shared with her fiancé, Don.

One town hall attendee, who introduced herself as a neighbor of Damond’s, noted Noor had been on the force for just 21 months, and said the lessons instilled during officer training should have been fresh in his memory. What, she asked, were Minneapolis officers being taught?

Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano spoke to the crowd at a listening session on policing. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano spoke to the crowd at a listening session on policing. Photo by Dylan Thomas

An insider

Similar question await Medaria “Rondo” Arradondo, who is leading the department in the wake of Harteau’s resignation, submitted under pressure less than a week after Damond’s death. Nominated by Mayor Betsy Hodges to fill out Harteau’s term, Arradondo would be the city’s first black chief of police, and several City Council members said he was poised to win approval from a majority of their colleagues.

A 28-year veteran of the department, Arradondo began as a patrol officer in the 3rd Precinct. He later served as a School Resource Officer and worked a beat on the North Side, rising to inspector of downtown’s 1st Precinct before being named a deputy chief and Harteau’s chief of staff.

Palmisano said she hadn’t yet made up her mind on his nomination and was still seeking constituent feedback at events like the town hall and a public hearing set for Aug. 9. It wasn’t the time for a “knee-jerk” reaction, she said.

Longtime department observer Dave Bicking, a member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, described Arradondo as an open and communicative leader who may very well be the best choice for chief. But Bicking said the council was passing up an important chance to conduct a wider search and to have a longer, public conversation about policing during what would likely be a months-long process.

“Stability in the department is not what we need,” he said. “We need change.”

Pledging change

Both Noor and Officer Matthew Harrity, who also responded to Damond’s 911 call, failed to activate their body cameras either before or after the shooting. One of Arradondo’s first actions as acting chief was to announce on July 26 changes to the department’s body camera policy, including a new requirement to activate the cameras on all calls for service.

On July 31, Arradondo stood beside Hodges and laid out his vision for the department, pledging to focus on “culture change, accountability and outcomes.” He said he would seek community input while reviewing the department’s body camera and use-of-force policies “to evaluate whether they can be strengthened,” adding that he intended also to increase the department resources dedicated to the health and wellness of officers.

Pressed on how he would change the culture in the department, Arradondo acknowledged that shift would not come quickly or easily. He said it would require relationships built on trust and respect, both between members of the department and between its officers and the community.

“In the past several years, the Minneapolis Police Department as well as police departments all over the country have certainly been scrutinized,” he said. “There have certainly been areas of our communities where the trust has been shaken. I am committed to making sure that when the history is written we are on the right side of history.”

The next day, the City Council Executive Committee met in special session and approved his nomination, paving the way for a vote by the full council on Aug. 18.

Attendees of an Aug. 2 listening session on policing wrote out the questions they had following the shooting of Justine Damond. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Attendees of an Aug. 2 listening session on policing wrote out the questions they had following the shooting of Justine Damond. Photo by Dylan Thomas

A base of support

Those supporting Arradondo’s nomination include Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the union that represents Minneapolis police officers. Kroll described him as nice, reasonable and respected.

“We’ve always had good communications between us,” Kroll said.

City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10), who attended the Palmisano-hosted town hall, described Arradondo as a “natural collaborator.” Bender said his status as an insider, one with nearly three decades of experience in the department, gave him a perspective and understanding that would help him shift the department’s culture.

North Minneapolis resident Manu Lewis, who attended Arradondo and Harteau’s July 31 press conference, said he’d known “Rondo” for several years and felt it was significant the department would be lead by an African-American chief for the first time. But Lewis said Arradondo still had work to do to broaden his base of support.

“Everyone wants opportunity in their community, so to work with who we have to get that done, to have someone familiar, is great,” he said.