Riding an overwhelming wave of support, Medaria Arradondo took another step Wednesday toward becoming the next Minneapolis police chief.
After nearly two hours of public comment, the City Council’s public safety committee unanimously signed off on his nomination. Final approval could come as early as next week’s meeting of the full City Council.
The question of whether the job of running the state’s largest police force should fall to the 28-year department veteran or an outsider appeared to be settled at Wednesday’s meeting as a wide swath of Minneapolis residents spoke in his favor as the successor to Chief Janeé Harteau, who resigned last month. Still, some cautioned that Arradondo alone cannot change the culture within the department.
From community activists and pastors to current and former cops, dozens of people lined up outside the packed council chambers for their chance to speak.
Before citizens took their turns, Arradondo addressed the council, saying that as chief he is accountable not only to the department’s 855 members, but also to the city’s 400,000 residents.
“Service, the word, has been diminished. I believe if we are to have any greatness in life, it is through service to others,” he said.
That includes listening to the pain of others, he said, later adding that substantive change doesn’t occur overnight.
“As I’ve said before, conflict and tension are not necessarily bad things. Often they come from a desire for us to be better,” Arradondo said. “The ultimate goal is to have a department where the community trusts us, where we are looked upon as being legitimate, where we are looked at as being guardians of our community and one with our community. That is the direction I plan to lead.”
Abdirizak Bihi was among the Somali community leaders who spoke, saying he first became acquainted with Arradondo after Sept. 11, 2001.
Bihi credited the then-sergeant with making inroads in the Somali-American immigrant community, which has often distrusted law enforcement. “Any officer from the MPD is highly regarded in our community because of the work of Arradondo and other officers,” he said.
Others’ expectations were more tempered. Chuck Turchick, a regular at public safety committee meetings, said he supported Arradondo’s appointment but worried it would only bring more of the same.
“If people think this appointment is going to lead to radical changes in this department, I think they’re deluding themselves,” Turchick said. “Chief Harteau didn’t pick Arradondo as her assistant chief because they had fundamental differences.”
Still, the comments were overwhelmingly supportive.
Council candidate Phillipe Cunningham said that as a young, black transgender man, “I could have never imagined myself speaking in favor of a police officer.” But he said that after he served on several bodies with Arradondo, the officer’s “compassion and humility” won him over.
Several rank-and-file officers from the force also professed their support.
“I expect that he’s going to be a great chief, with your help,” said Lt. Rick Zimmerman, motioning toward the committee and Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Zimmerman, who runs the homicide unit, said Arradondo — who goes by the nickname “Rondo” — has always focused on a crucial aspect of police work: building relationships.
“At the top of our state license, it doesn’t say occupier, it doesn’t say guard, it doesn’t say cop; what it says is peace officer, and that embodies what Chief Rondo is,” he said.
Metro Transit police Lt. Anthony Hines, president of the National Black Police Association’s Minnesota chapter, said his former mentor set a high standard for black leaders.
“He is the community; I don’t think there’s been a chief here in the last 30 years that has been so ingrained and rooted in the city of Minneapolis,” Hines said, wiping away tears. “Rondo, I just want you to remember one thing you told me probably in 1995: ‘Be respectful, professional, and we’re nothing without the community we serve.’ ”
While Arradondo’s nomination was met with enthusiastic support, some speakers questioned the direction of the department, particularly after the July 15 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot by officer Mohamed Noor after she called 911 to report a possible assault behind her southwest Minneapolis home. The shooting drew international attention and led to Harteau’s resignation.
Hodges appointed Arradondo, who most recently had served as assistant chief. If confirmed, he would become the first black chief in the city’s history.
The significance of his posting wasn’t lost on black leaders in attendance.
“It does no good to put Rondo in as chief if he’s not going to be supported, if we’re not going to challenge the [Minneapolis Police Officers] Federation and change the structure and the culture of policing, which is what needs to be changed,” said Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church and a former City Council member. “Don’t put him in there and after a year or two say nothing’s changed and he didn’t do anything, because it’s going to take longer than that.”