Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Wednesday outlined his vision for the department amid ongoing debate over police resources, saying he is hopeful the broad changes in officer screening, training and discipline that he's pursued since taking the job will outlast him.
Speaking in front of the City Council's public safety committee for the second time in three weeks, Arradondo acknowledged that he knew "coming into this role that we needed transformational change in the MPD." He said that some changes are already underway, including improving officer training and developing a curriculum for grooming the department's next generation of leaders. Officer wellness is also a priority, he said.
"When I am no longer your chief, the transformation of the MPD is what I want to be my legacy," he said. "Clearly as chief I want to continue to stay focused to make sure that our department is reflective of the communities that we continue to serve."
Other reforms, he said, may not come into fruition until long after he's left the job.
"Part of transformational change is truly releasing the grip of past practices that foster complacency," he said.
Shortly after taking over as chief, Arradondo said he issued a vision statement laying out his aspirations, including a more data-driven, cooperative approach rooted in sanctity-of-life principles — the most "precious of all of our duties as peace officers," he says — and procedural justice, which emphasizes respectful interactions with the public.
"So I set out to create this vision, to create this North Star as guidance to help lead us forward," he said.
On Wednesday, his words were again met with skepticism. Council Member Steve Fletcher cautioned the chief against taking credit for changes that should have been adopted by police departments long ago.
"I want to both reflect on how important those values are and also what a low bar that is," he said, referring to the sanctity of life standard.
And despite assurances to the contrary, Fletcher said he had heard that the problem of officer discipline cases going unaddressed has continued in recent months.
"I've heard we're still not there," said Fletcher, among the most vocal police critics on the council.
"We still have some work to do, but we're getting much better," Arradondo conceded, before adding later: "Discipline is one of those last-resort things, where you're ultimately trying to change behavior."
The issue of officer discipline surfaced again later in the meeting when Council Member Jeremiah Ellison asked whether any officers had been punished in the wake of high-profile controversies over undercover marijuana stings that critics said unfairly targeted blacks downtown or over paramedics' use of ketamine on patients.
"Not all culture change has to be carrying a big stick, but if actions can't have consequences, that is going to stifle culture change," Ellison said.
Arradondo replied that none had.
But, he said, in the case of the since-discontinued drug operations, the fact that some young black men think they have to sell drugs in order to survive revealed a more pervasive and troubling social phenomenon.
After Arradondo told the committee at its last meeting that there were 1,251 instances in a 12-month period in which no squads were available immediately to respond to Priority 1 calls, officials revealed earlier this week that the actual number was more than five times that. Police backers argue that the startling statistic only underscores how inadequate the department's staffing levels have become.
Still, the chief's request for adding 400 new patrol officers, along with whether the city can afford it, has become a divisive issue.
During the public comment period Wednesday, several speakers in the crowd called on council members to hire more cops, with one woman imploring to "stop making a safety issue a political issue."
Arradondo has said the extra officers are needed to keep pace with population growth and attrition. The request for added manpower comes as arrests and traffic stops have declined steeply, though calls for service have gone up about a third since 2010.
At the same time, Arradondo says, officers are increasingly being asked to address issues arising from such social conditions as poverty, inadequate housing and isolation that are largely out of their control.
A city work group has been charged with studying which types of emergencies require a police response and which could potentially be diverted to other agencies.