On Feb. 5 I read "Why I am one of many former MPD officers," a commentary written by a recently retired Minneapolis police lieutenant from Roseville who had been on the force for 37 years. She said that she was "in mourning." I am truly sorry she feels that way. For that, I mourn also.
But I want to write about why I decided, a little over five months ago, to become the new Minneapolis city attorney. It was one of the most important personal and professional decisions I have ever made (aside from my marrying my incredible wife) and I felt compelled to tell some of my story here.
I grew up in the middle of the city of Chicago as a Puerto Rican kid in a Polish/Filipino neighborhood (yes, you read that right) and have worked in downtowns there, in Detroit and in Houston. I am a creature of the dense, urban, big-city environment.
When I moved to Minneapolis in 1992, my wife and I were committed to living in the heart of the city (she is an African American who grew up in the middle of north Milwaukee). We have lived in Kingfield and more recently in Uptown. We picked these places to start our married adult lives and raise two kids into college because we were drawn to the diversity, culture and vibrancy of the city. What might be uncomfortable at times to someone from the suburbs, we feel as the comfort of a nice, warm blanket.
I was in the 26th year of a great run as a lawyer at Target — as vice president and general counsel of employee and labor relations — when, in 2020, a global pandemic hit our world and emptied our downtown. Then, in late May, George Floyd died while being restrained by Minneapolis police officers summoned over a possible counterfeit $20 bill. Really. You almost can't make it up. And our city fell apart.
I was angry. I was scared. I was also eager to do something, anything, to help fix this problem that has vexed our city for longer than my wife and I have lived here.
Minneapolis police have unfortunately practiced inequitable policing based on the color of one's skin for too long — decades at least. It has to stop, it has to change — now, today, tomorrow and for good.
So, I left my extremely well-paid corporate gig last summer and threw myself into the fire. I wanted to be part of the change; make the change; do the change — because this is my city. It is my family's city. I care deeply. I am all in.
But I can't do it alone and neither can the City Attorney's Office. Don't get me wrong — I believe that I am a damn good lawyer. And guess what I found when I came to the City Attorney's Office? A whole bunch more damn good and committed lawyers. I also found a bunch of high-quality, talented and committed fellow city of Minneapolis employees, department heads and elected officials. People who are all in. We all want the change, want to make the change, to do the change.
What do we need most now? We need the officers who have decided to stay at the MPD to join us in wanting to bring about this change. Yes, you can throw criticism at council members for some of their actions, and you can criticize mayors over the years who have not addressed head-on the culture problems plaguing the MPD.
But none of that is the source of the problem. Unfortunately, it is clear to me in the short time I have been in my new role that the source of the problem is that too many officers are not willing to take ownership of the culture they have created. They don't want to hold themselves accountable. They don't want to be told that they should change their way of policing this community.
Their chief can't tell them, city leaders can't tell them, the community can't tell them.
Sadly, Bob Kroll, the now former Police Federation president, can and does tell them it's OK — you are not the problem. Someone else is the problem. And too many officers listen. That has got to stop.
Listening to those who are truly trying to help — like so many people I have encountered now while working at the city — has got to start. Now, today, tomorrow and for good. We are all in on Minneapolis and we need more officers on the MPD to shake the past and join us — be all in.
We are here to help. Will you at least listen?
Jim Rowader is city attorney of Minneapolis.