Veteran Minneapolis police Inspector Eddie Frizell became a model of persistence on Friday with the announcement that he will take over the top job for the Metro Transit Police Department.
In recent years with Minneapolis, Frizell has been close to receiving promotions to chief in other jurisdictions, including St. Paul in 2016, and run unsuccessfully for Hennepin County sheriff. He even sued the Minneapolis department over a demotion, but kept going.
“Never say quit,” an upbeat Frizell said in an interview Friday.
He takes over a growing police agency that sprawls across the entire seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area. The service area comprises seven counties, 90 cities and 907 square miles. Frizell will oversee 140 sworn full-time officers and 60 part-time officers. More officers are expected to join the department with the addition of the Southwest light-rail project.
The new chief’s task is to protect everyone involved in the 80 million rides annually on 130 routes run by buses along with commuter and light-rail trains.
Frizell said he’ll take to the job as he’s approached everything in his life: with a blue-collar work ethic learned from his parents and a “guardian mentality” about the job that he will assume on Aug. 5.
He also emphasized that he adheres to the “servant leadership” philosophy with the goal of serving his staff and the public — not himself or the organization.
The Waterloo, Iowa, native proudly noted that he got his blue-collar bona fides from both parents who both worked full time for 30 years at the John Deere Tractor plant before retiring.
He was pulled north in search of something else that included the Minnesota music scene of the early 1980s. At the time, Frizell had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and had completed the U.S. Army National Guard’s Officer Candidate School.
He got a job working security at then-hotspot Norma Jean’s, where he befriended future marquee musicians and Minneapolis police officers who recruited him for the department.
He’s laid roots as he built a rich career. He and his wife, a public school art teacher, settled in Maple Grove, raising three children — one daughter is starting medical school, another is in her final year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and his 13-year-old son is starting high school.
Along the way, Frizell rose to the rank of colonel in the guard and inspector in the police department, overseeing the high-profile downtown Minneapolis precinct.
Dr. Raj Sethuraju, co-chair of the Minneapolis NAACP’s criminal justice committee, said Frizell has strong support from community members and has integrity. “He shows genuine interest in the community’s needs,” Sethuraju said.
Sethuraju formerly served as a volunteer with Restorative Justice Community Action, a nonprofit that provided diversion programming to people ticketed by Metro Transit police for fare evasion. He said the experience taught him that transit riders with mental health issues were often ticketed, and that they needed more proactive support from the department in the form of intervention by social workers and mental health experts.
“In the past, the focus has been on enforcement instead of addressing and restoring their humanity,” Sethuraju said.
Robert Allen, retired Minneapolis deputy police chief who is now chief of staff to Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, said Frizell is a motivational, supportive leader. “He’s got the leadership personality that’s needed in that role — bringing together a lot of disparate agencies over a huge area to ensure safety on the system,” Allen said.
He will face public pushback and criticism if he falls short.
Frizell’s appointment comes after a crash at a bus shelter that injured six men earlier this week drew fresh attention to racial tensions on the North Side of Minneapolis. Activists questioned the ability of Metro Transit to handle the investigation, and called for charges against George Jensen, 83, of Champlin, the driver who struck the bus shelter at the intersection of N. Lyndale and W. Broadway avenues.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and past president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said she hopes he brings strong leadership with a focus on transparency, accountability and building stronger relationships with communities of color.
“Given the reputation of Metro Transit police for racial profiling and excessive force against African Americans, the hope is that Eddie Frizell will address those challenges and ensure proper training of officers,” she said.
Frizell was one of two finalists for the position. The other was interim Chief A.J. Olson, who led the department after former Chief John Harrington departed earlier this year to lead the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
The new job means Frizell won’t be at his usual post working security in the secured media and executive areas at U.S. Bank Stadium during Vikings games. Instead, he said he will be “boots on the ground” outside the stadium greeting fans.
Staff writers Chao Xiong and Randy Furst contributed to this report.