Minneapolis council approves PD plan to expand, restructure command staff

This is the first stage of an administrative shakeup Chief Brian O'Hara believes is necessary to prepare for monitorship under a federal consent decree

By Liz Sawyer
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS - The Minneapolis City Council on Thursday voted to approve the creation of two new positions within the police department's command staff, the first stage of an administrative shakeup Chief Brian O'Hara believes is necessary to prepare for monitorship under a federal consent decree.

Council members signed off on O'Hara's request to appoint a second assistant chief of police and reclassify the chief of staff job — historically held by a sworn officer — as a civilian role. He billed the move as a way to increase accountability among the upper echelons of department leadership.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii

The motion passed 12-1. Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw cast the lone vote in dissent.

"Four months ago when I voted to appoint the chief, I was hopeful that he was going to come here, provide leadership, vision and strategy to take this department forward," she said. "I have yet to see a concrete plan or strategy around how the department is going to move forward in the right direction."

Vetaw lamented that repeated attempts to gather more details on O'Hara's longterm goals for the agency has not produced sufficient evidence to support the idea that these positions would improve public safety in her ward.

However, colleagues — including two longtime vocal critics of MPD — countered that O'Hara's recent presentation outlining his desire to build an executive leadership team that more closely mirrors the hierarchy of the Minneapolis Fire Department had satisfied their desire for transparency.

"I had a lot of skepticism," said council member Jeremiah Ellison, whose concerns were lifted by assurances that salaries for the jobs would come out of the existing MPD budget.

"They're positions that exist, no matter who the personnel and leadership is. But I think our current chief did give a good rationale for this."

On Tuesday, O'Hara appeared before the Committee of the Whole for more than an hour to field questions and explain his proposal for an organizational chart that splits major divisions between two assistant chiefs. One would be responsible for overseeing all crime-fighting operations, such as investigations and patrol; the other tasked with leading community outreach efforts and Internal Affairs, to ensure officers uphold the principles of procedural justice.

"This structure communicates what we think is important," he said. "If we're serious about consent decree implementation, we should be communicating that — not just to the community but in the department."

As second in command, the assistant chief has traditionally managed the department's day-to-day operations, freeing the chief to focus on major policy issues. That role has remained largely vacant for over a year, while Henry Halvorson is out on extended medical leave.

O'Hara appointed 28-year department veteran Amelia Huffman, who served as interim police chief after the retirement of Medaria Arradondo, to fill the position of acting assistant chief last November. But in recent months, Huffman has remained distanced from MPD operations while embedded within the city attorney's office to work on preparations for pending legal agreements with Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Justice Department.

In April 2021, one day after ex-MPD officer Derek Chauvin's conviction for killing George Floyd, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a probe into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a "pattern and practice" of systemic discrimination and illegal conduct, including whether officers used excessive force during protests. That investigation is ongoing and is expected to result in the federal consent decree.

After a two-year investigation, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found last April that MPD engaged in a pattern of in violation of the state's civil rights law over the past decade and failed to hold problem officers accountable, while stops, searches, arrests, and uses of force people of color — especially Black people — were at much higher rates than white people.

The newly approved assistant chief position — with an annual salary ranging from $159,921 to $189,576 — would be tailored toward crime prevention and bolstering public relations through engagement and recruiting.

O'Hara is also asking the state legislature to repeal a 1961 state law that caps the number of deputy chiefs within the agency to three. If granted that flexibility, he intends to shift one deputy chief to run Internal Affairs, which currently falls under the Bureau of Professional Standards, and appoint another to directly oversee work on the anticipated consent decree.

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