When Virgil Green officially takes the helm of the Golden Valley Police Department next month, he's inheriting a host of administrative challenges that span far beyond day-to-day operations.
Green, who is poised to become the city's first Black police chief, will be sworn in in July. He says he's ready to lead and fully staff his new department. But in the meantime, he must figure out how to staunch an exodus of officers and navigate an ongoing investigation into allegations of racism and conflicts of interest in the department — while also overcoming concerns about his own leadership.
"There is some light over the clouds, but we've got to get through this stage here," Green told the City Council this month.
Green's hiring was controversial from the get-go. Mayor Shep Harris called the process into question, saying it was negatively influenced by a local organization and involved intimidating tactics of police staff hand-delivering an endorsement letter for the other finalist, interim chief Scott Nadeau, during interviews following the retirement of Chief Jason Sturgis in August. Nadeau later took himself out of the running. Harris ultimately called for an investigation into the department. The probe, with a price tag of up to $120,000, is ongoing.
Questions also have come from community members, who've raised concerns about the fact that Green previously was terminated as police chief in Spencer, Okla., and Helena-West Helena, Ark.
City Manager Tim Cruikshank declined interview requests but provided a statement that read, in part: "Reviewing Mr. Green's past employment record, we have not yet learned anything that has prevented us from moving forward" with an employment offer.
Green said both terminations were discussed during his interview process.
"I wouldn't be where I am now if others thought that there was something wrong with my character," he said.
The city extended a conditional offer to Green in March, and officials said it would take eight weeks to finalize his hiring. That was 14 weeks ago.
For now, Green holds the title of police department director, leading in a non-sworn capacity until he completes licensure requirements through the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
In a statement, the city said the process is taking longer than expected because this is the first time Golden Valley has hired a police chief from out of state, "and the reciprocity process is different than hiring an officer who is already licensed in Minnesota."
Department in turmoil
Meanwhile, the department is desperate for leadership.
Golden Valley is budgeted for 31 sworn officers, but Acting Police Chief Alice White said at a June 7 council meeting that, come July, the department will be down to 16 officers. The city recently entered into an agreement with Hennepin County for deputies to help fill patrol shifts through 2024.
"We're not completely there yet but we are at a critical state," White said, adding that staffing levels are jeopardizing response times and officer safety.
A 23-year veteran of the department, Amanda Johnson wrote in a recent resignation letter that the loss of staff and low morale is "unprecedented and is unmatched by any other department in this state." She described the department as decimated.
"I want to make it very clear," she wrote, "that I am resigning my position solely due to the mistreatment of department and city staff."
Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, which works with unions to negotiate Minnesota law enforcement agency contracts — including in Golden Valley — said the city's police staffing shortage is not due simply to normal recruitment and retention issues.
"This has to do with leadership and the direction they are taking that department," he said.
On social media, residents have brought up Green's terminations and past litigation that have remained a flashpoint as he prepares to lead the department in an new direction.
Several years after he was appointed chief in Spencer, a suburb of Oklahoma City, Green was placed on administrative leave for what the Spencer city manager described as a failure to follow the chain of command. Green had called on the sheriff's office to investigate the city mishandling of evidence that ended up stolen in an open criminal case.
The Oklahoman reported that the city manager's decision led to backlash from the police union and prompted a state audit that resulted in three city employees being charged with embezzlement. The city manager was terminated a year after Green's suspension.
Green took the matter to court, suing the city and city manager for wrongful termination. The case was dismissed in 2016.
In 2015, Green was hired as police chief in Helena-West Helena, Ark., and fired two years later. Local television stations reported he was fired for not reducing crime, but Green said that wasn't the real reason. Green said he had charged two council members with abuse of office after they refused to pay their utility bills. He also arrested and charged an officer for false imprisonment. A few months later, the mayor fired Green. He sued that city's mayor and City Council in response. That case was dismissed in 2020.
Though the beginning of his tenure with Golden Valley has been complicated, Green said in an interview he was hired because of his understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion in 21st-century policing.
He said he believes Minneapolis and its suburbs can be a national model for police reform, adding, "Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"
"The things that happened with George Floyd, the things that happened with Daunte Wright really started a conversation about police reform," Green said. "You just got to be a leader who is willing to have those tough conversations."
Green has been leaning into tough conversations through a podcast he started in December, called You and The Law, that touches on current events such as mass shootings and recent national discussions about so-called replacement theory.
"We've talked about police reform, we've talked about topics that are really not talked about in the policing arena," he said, adding that conversations about policing and rebuilding trust with minority communities need to be a focus in the profession.
"Black people and people in a minority community, they want good policing," he said. "And when bad policing happens, they're expecting the police leadership to do something to correct that bad policing."
Green said that he hopes no one is leaving the department because of his approach to the top job.
"But if they do so, then … how would that person be when they go to another city? Because you're the same person. You're just going somewhere else," he said.