Amelia Huffman, a former commander of the city’s homicide unit, is taking over leadership of Southwest Minneapolis’ 5th Precinct at what she calls a “challenging and painful time.”
Police shootings of unarmed Twin Cities residents — including Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot and killed by a 5th Precinct officer after calling 911 for help — have ratcheted up the tension between citizens and police.
“Healing that chasm is going to take time and work,” Huffman said. “We need to engage with folks during the course of their regular life.”
A native of Springfield, Ohio, Huffman studied constitutional law at Smith College, a women’s liberal arts school in Massachusetts, before returning to the Midwest in 1994 to join the Minneapolis Police Department as a patrol officer.
“Minneapolis was looking to hire people who had backgrounds in things other than law enforcement,” she said. “I wanted to do something that would make a difference — not just pushing meaningless papers from one place to another.”
In her 24-year career, Huffman has served as an investigator in the MPD’s financial crimes, child abuse and internal affairs units and taken on a number of leadership roles. When the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in 2007, she was working as the department’s spokesperson.
Her skill in managing the deluge of media attention impressed her superiors, prompting Chief Tim Dolan to give her command of the city’s homicide unit, a post she left after 10 months.
Huffman is replacing Kathy Waite, who has been named deputy chief of patrol. Before her promotion to inspector, Huffman had been working in the 5th Precinct as a lieutenant.
Now a Cedar-Isles Dean resident, Huffman has also lived in Stevens Square, Uptown and Kingfield. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
You began your career in Southwest in the 1990s. How has the area changed and how will your approach to policing change from when you were a beat cop?
Southwest has some of the same things I loved when I first started. It’s full of walkable neighborhood centers with beautiful businesses and great parks and lakes.
Uptown has certainly become a lot busier. The nightlife has exploded. We’re not staffed the way Downtown is for that kind of an entertainment district. So particularly during the warmer months, the number of people and cars and the alcohol-fueled activity that blossoms in Uptown is really a challenge. We need to make sure we’re staffing adequately to keep everyone safe.
On busy weekend nights, there are now a couple of blocks that get closed off to vehicle traffic at bar close to allow pedestrians to disperse more safely. This summer we’ll see more bike officers and mounted patrol on horses in Uptown. The officers on the bikes have a huge advantage when it’s crowded, because they can get around very rapidly, and they can use their bikes for crowd management. People like seeing the horses — they look great, people are curious — and the officers on mounted patrol have an excellent vantage point to see over the crowd.
Uptown is growing so fast. There are so many new buildings being built, so many new residents. So that’s going to mean more cars, more bicycles, more scooters on the streets and more traffic.
What will be your overall enforcement priorities?
I don’t think anyone will notice any difference in priorities. We have a significant focus on property crimes.
We respond to reports of thefts and burglaries, and we also work with neighborhood groups to diminish the opportunities for those crimes. Officers post flyers in business nodes that are attractive fishing ponds for thieves. It would be great if we could catch every one of those thieves, but it’s sometimes a matter of looking for a needle in a haystack.
We have a community response team that responds to neighborhood complaints about drug activity. They do investigations of street-level activity and residences where there’s a lot of activity. Our priority tends to be responding to complaints.
What actions will you take to transform the culture of the 5th Precinct?
We need to engage with folks during the course of their regular life. We’ll continue to incorporate the department’s focus on procedural justice throughout all of our regular activities. We’ll look at partnering with our community engagement team to get officers out to more community events — things like Bike Cops for Kids and Open Streets Minneapolis and the Red Hot Art Festival and the Uptown Art Fair. It’s important they get to interact in a non-emergency situation; it’s hard to make a connection in a crisis situation.
As I’m sending my officers out to get to know people one-on-one, I would also invite people to come to our events. You’ll have the opportunity to talk to our officers, meet the folks at our precinct, have one of the crime prevention specialists come out and talk to you about security in your apartment, your business and your home.