Minneapolis confirms former N.J. deputy mayor as new police chief

Brian O'Hara will be tasked with rebuilding department morale, staffing, curbing violent crime and ensuring compliance with court-mandated reforms

By Liz Sawyer
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minneapolis City Council unanimously confirmed Brian O'Hara as the city's next police chief, a decision meant to usher in a new era of policing in a town still defined by George Floyd's murder.

Elected officials, including those initially skeptical of hiring an outsider as the next top cop, wished O'Hara success in transforming the embattled department and turning the page on what's largely considered the most difficult chapter in Minneapolis' history.

"I'm not easily impressed, but I'm impressed with you," said Council member Lisa Goodman, a longtime supporter of Interim Chief Amelia Huffman, who was not a finalist for the permanent role.

"I do think that you are the right person, at this moment, for this position. This community holds incredible hope for you — and this department," Goodman said, ahead of the 13-0 vote securing his appointment. "The moment is heavy, not celebratory, because we know there's so much more work to be done."

The unanimous decision was welcomed with applause in a council chambers packed with uniformed officers and much of MPD's command staff. Upon his confirmation, O'Hara promised to engage with the whole community — including those who may vehemently disagree with the agency and its policies.

"Everyone is hungry for change in this city," O'Hara told reporters afterward. "I'm not here to maintain the status quo."

Over his three year term, O'Hara will be tasked with rebuilding the department's depleted ranks, curbing violent crime and implementing a litany of court-mandated reforms, including those required by an anticipated federal consent decree.

Mayor Jacob Frey hailed the unanimous vote as a major step toward transforming public safety in a city facing steep demands to improve police accountability.

"This sends a message to our entire city that we are united in cause, united in action," he said at a news conference minutes after O'Hara's confirmation. "We are going to set the example for others to follow."

O'Hara will be formally sworn in during a private ceremony Monday. A larger public celebration is being planned for later next week.

O'Hara, 43, is a veteran law enforcement officer from New Jersey, who steadily climbed the ranks of the Newark Police Department before ascending to public safety director and, most recently, deputy mayor. During his time there, supporters credited him for collaborating with longtime department critics and working to implement the terms of a federal consent decree mandating sweeping changes to the agency. Many city officials expect Minneapolis will soon face similar court orders as a result of concurrent investigations by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and U.S. Department of Justice.

O'Hara is the first outsider to lead the Minneapolis Police Department in 16 years. He succeeds Medaria Arradondo, who served as the city's first Black chief and helmed the agency through Floyd's murder and the ensuing crises.

He will earn an annual salary between $253,000 and $300,000 — up significantly from the roughly $204,000 Arradondo brought home last year.

Last week, his nomination sailed through a Health and Public Safety Committee meeting in a 5-0 vote following a public hearing, which drew a small group of speakers — most of whom favored his appointment.

Since then, O'Hara has remained in the Twin Cities, bouncing between community meetings in each precinct, introducing himself to residents, business owners and faith leaders. On Wednesday night at Northeast Library, concerned citizens peppered him with questions about how he plans to shift the department's internal culture and bolster accountability.

"I need to get a look under the hood to see how this Police Department is actually operating," he said, noting that as an outsider he offers a different perspective than those who came up through MPD's ranks.

"The greatest policies in the world written on paper mean absolutely nothing if that's not how the cops are behaving on the street," O'Hara said. "Culture is more than that."

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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