Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo preached the need for robust law enforcement and described his efforts to transform the department's culture before delivering a warning Saturday to those who would slash the number of officers on city streets.
"Any talk about decreasing the personnel we have is ridiculous — it is absolutely ridiculous," Arradondo said to several dozen people gathered at Shiloh Temple on West Broadway in north Minneapolis. The forum was sponsored by the youth task force of the Unity Community Mediation Team, a group of residents that has worked on police-relations for almost two decades.
In 2½ hours on the stage, the chief gave brief remarks and responded to questions from the mostly Black audience. Some interlocutors gently prodded him on police attitudes toward people of color, but the audience appeared most concerned about police protection in one of the most violent areas of Minneapolis, which has seen 75 homicides this year.
The audience's support may have contributed to the chief's candor when he talked about the summer of 2018, when he had, as he described it sarcastically, "the unmitigated gall" to ask the City Council to add 400 officers to the 900 on the streets.
"I was trying to forecast to our electeds, 'You pay now or you pay later,' and we're paying now," he said, adding that the department is two-thirds the size it was in summer 2020.
Like much of the world, Minneapolis was roiled by the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, 2020. Days of rioting followed, including the burning of the Third Precinct police headquarters on Lake Street.
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder this spring for holding Floyd down with his knee until he died. Three other former officers are expected to stand trial next year.
Floyd's murder led to the ballot question currently before Minneapolis voters: Whether to eliminate a minimum staffing level for police from the city charter. A Minnesota Poll earlier this month showed that a majority of city voters oppose reducing the size of the department. The poll also indicated that Arradondo continues to have stronger support than either Mayor Jacob Frey or the City Council.
Moderator A.J. Flowers opened the session by saying, "This is a fight for our lives that we're having right now. … We need to make sure our voice is heard."
Opening his remarks, the chief listed his efforts at "transformative change." He talked about crisis intervention training, using Narcan to treat drug overdoses, body-worn cameras, changed policies on use of force and traffic stops, and implicit-bias training.
To those who believe the pace of progress is slow, Arradondo said, "All the things that we have fought for have taken time."
He acknowledged the increased violence that has wracked Minneapolis. "The truth is we have too many people dying in our city," Arradondo said. And he noted that the largest threat to the public, especially the African American community, doesn't come from police.
"The truth is we've got a condition of the heart. Eighty-five percent of victims look like us and 85 percent of perpetrators look like us," he said.
He talked about the three children shot this spring not far from the church where he was speaking. Two died and one remains in dire condition. A $180,000 reward for information hasn't led to arrests.
When he stepped up to the microphone from the audience, Elijah O'Neal, 21, of Minneapolis, seized on the shootings, saying, "Somebody's out there. Somebody's seen it."
He also lamented that there were plenty of empty seats at the forum. "There just needs to be more people stepping up," he said.
O'Neal was at the event as a leader with Emerge, a workforce and community development nonprofit. He said he's met with the chief many times and wants more young people to get involved in addressing problems. "He definitely hears us all the time and follows up with us," O'Neal said.
Ahmed Omar, 19, and co-chair of the young people's task force, asked the chief why people shouldn't be afraid to call police. Arradondo said he's working to ensure that police view everyone as someone of value.
Another Emerge member, Markess Wilkins, said he once played a part in gun violence, but turned away from it. "It's up to us to change our community," he said.
After the forum, the 26-year-old Wilkins said he views Arradondo as an uncle or big brother. "This defunding the police is a problem," Wilkins said. "If we get rid of the police, there's going to be so much chaos."
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747