Inspector Charlie Adams thought he was being summoned to a meeting. Instead, he rounded a corner inside his North Side police station to find dozens of community members waiting to surprise him.
They erupted in applause, then presented Adams with a plaque for "going above and beyond" the call of duty. The award acknowledged his 37 years of service as a police officer in Minneapolis, but also his steadfast efforts to build trust with and mentor youth — on and off the football field.
"He is the gold standard," said Gerald Moore, a retired Minneapolis Police Department commander who once served as Adams' field training officer. "Wish we could hire more folks like him."
Adams, the latest Northsider to lead that precinct, is a true son of the city.
He was raised in low-income federal housing projects and, as a teenager, was occasionally hassled by police while out with his friends. Adams understood what it felt like to be viewed with suspicion by white officers. After stints working security and driving the No. 21 night bus out of St. Paul, Adams joined MPD in 1987, hoping to change the system from within.
Since then, he's been an outspoken advocate for diversifying the department's ranks. That viewpoint wasn't always welcome.
Lt. Richard Zimmerman recalled the time in the 1980s that Adams, his former partner, was sent to internal affairs for giving a TV interview about the need to recruit more Black officers from the community. Despite resistance, colleagues credit his efforts with recruiting and training the next generation of minority cops.
He was one of five Black officers — known as "the Mill City 5" — who sued the department in 2007 over allegations that Blacks on the force were for decades subjected to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment. The officers settled out of court with the city for $740,000.
Former Chief Medaria Arradondo — another of the Mill City 5 — appointed Adams to his current role following the murder of George Floyd and amid a polarizing debate about the role of law enforcement in American society. Locals hailed him as the right choice: Adams had a thick skin and spoke frankly, never making promises he couldn't keep.
His ascent marked one of many hard-fought victories in the battle to break barriers in the overwhelmingly white department.
"Everything they told us you couldn't do, you have done," said civil rights activist Spike Moss, nodding to a row of Black leaders now in top positions within the police and fire department . "I'm honored to be in your presence, that God let me live long enough to see you in those uniforms."
"Charlie, at every level of your career, you've been a citizen of the Northside," Moss continued. "You've been a friend to the people. You've been whatever we needed you to be."
A line of elected officials — Attorney General Keith Ellison, Mayor Jacob Frey, Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and LaTrisha Vetaw, and Minneapolis Public School Board Chair Sharon El-Amin among them — lauded Adams' unwavering commitment to his hometown.
For years, Adams has served as a defensive coordinator for the North High football team, his alma mater. It's coached by his son, Charles Adams III, the school's former resource officer. Both men were prominently featured in the recent Showtime documentary "Boys in Blue," which chronicles the Polars' 2021 season and the murder of star quarterback Deshaun Hill Jr.
"Whenever I do anything in this community, it's a product of this man right here," said Charles Adams, flanked by his sister, Brittney. She followed in their footsteps patrolling the Fourth Precinct. "We service this community because this is where we came from."
Lisa Clemons, a retired MPD sergeant and founder of the street outreach group A Mother's Love, coordinated the surprise for Adams, her one-time mentor. Dozens of supporters gathered as she presented Adams with her organization's Community Leader award. A few demanded that he stay on the force for another 10 years at least.
"You deserve this and more," former Assistant Chief Kris Arneson said. "When you gonna retire?"
"Never!" several in the room retorted.
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Adams as the first Northsider to lead the Fourth Precinct.