Minneapolis and St. Paul are searching for new police chiefs as the state's two biggest cities face dual demands to rein in violent crime and take a more creative approach to public safety following George Floyd's murder.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Sunday announced he has selected a California-based firm to help find a "reform-minded" leader to fill the post vacated earlier this year by Medaria Arradondo, who made history as the department's first Black chief and oversaw it during one of its worst crises.

"It's never been more crucial or necessary to bring in a leader who can really rebuild this department and achieve a renewed reality of public safety in our city," Frey said. "Now is the time, and we've really got to get this right."

St. Paul officials promised to release more details about their search process this week. Mayor Melvin Carter and the City Council have been publicly debating how to best balance their desires to hire the most qualified candidate and ensure the smoothest transition as Chief Todd Axtell prepares to leave this summer.

This is the first time both cities are seeking new police chiefs since Floyd's murder prompted a national conversation on policing — and unrest in the Twin Cities — and since an uptick in violent crime complicated debates about how to best transform public safety.

Both cities say they hope to have candidates narrowed down this summer.

"I think we're looking for a very different chief. St. Paul is in front in terms of being modern, being progressive, being reflective and leading," said St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen. "And Minneapolis is at a point where they need a fixer. So I feel like we're looking for two really different people."

Frey said he has been in touch with Carter and is prepared to compete for candidates nationwide. "Every city in the country is certainly competing for talent right now in the law enforcement field," he said, adding: "I think we obviously need a culture shift in our department and change."

Minneapolis begins its search

Minneapolis officials are still developing criteria for their next chief, who will take the helm of a department once again facing national scrutiny following the February killing of 22-year-old Amir Locke.

A Minneapolis officer fatally shot Locke while executing a search warrant for a St. Paul homicide case; there is no evidence Locke was tied to the killing. Body camera footage showed Locke, who had been lying under a blanket on a couch, stirred while holding a gun in his hand and was shot within seconds. The case — and inaccurate statements about it — prompted activists to call for Frey and interim police Chief Amelia Huffman to resign.

Frey said he wants an ambitious candidate who can enact reforms and has expertise building connections in the community and within their department.

Council Member Elliott Payne said he wants a candidate who shows deep respect for the community and is able to work alongside a proposed public safety agency that could include mental health, violence prevention and substance abuse programs, among others.

"We need to have much more transparency and accountability on the [police] force and a willingness to embrace that mistakes have been made," Payne said.

The search for a new chief will be conducted by Public Sector Search & Consulting Inc., run by two former law enforcement officials and an attorney. Frey said the city selected the firm out of a handful of companies who responded to their request for proposals. The firm will receive just under $95,000 for its work.

One of the group's first tasks will be to meet with a variety of people — community members, police and union representatives — to develop criteria for the job, which was previously cleared for a roughly $200,000 salary. They will deliver information about candidates to a selection committee whose members have yet to be announced.

The final interviews will be done by Frey, who will select a nominee and — if the candidate passes a state background check — send them to the City Council for confirmation.

Huffman, the interim chief, previously expressed interest in the job. Frey said he hasn't ruled her in or out. Payne said he would need answers to some "very significant questions" about the department's handling of the Locke killing "before I would ever consider interim Huffman as a candidate."

In St. Paul, a similar process

Officials in St. Paul have been watching the process in Minneapolis. The City Council has urged Carter to speed up his plan to hire a replacement for Axtell, who announced in late October that he plans to step down when his term expires June 23. Carter's administration laid out a search timeline that would produce a new chief in August.

"Given the array of public safety challenges currently facing our communities, a majority of the council strongly prefers a direct leadership transition between Chief Axtell and the next chief," Brendmoen said in a statement, which noted the recent hiring of 55 new officers and a director for the city's fledgling Office of Neighborhood Safety, as well as "the temporary leadership structures and challenges" facing the Minneapolis Police Department.

Carter last month responded to the council's claims that he was slow to start the process, saying: "It is foolhardy, among the deafening cries for a global evolution of policing culture and tactics, to suggest that speed should be the ultimate priority that controls this process."

The city's Human Resources staff indicated they hope to move up their timeline, Director of Council Operations Brynn Hausz told members last week.

St. Paul hopes to hire a search firm this month and has sought recommendations from Minneapolis, Hausz said. The city also plans to release an application for its citizen selection committee as soon as this week.

That committee, which is appointed by the council, will interview candidates and select five finalists to present to Carter. The mayor will then appoint a chief from the short list, and the council must vote to approve the choice.

St. Paul is planning a number of opportunities for community engagement, including surveys and conversations with special interest groups this spring. The city has held public forums with finalists in the past.

Last week, the council began to discuss minimum qualifications for candidates. A public hearing will be held Wednesday on their list of qualities, which includes four years of experience as a high-ranking administrator in a police organization with at least 500 sworn officers and "a proven record of success working in a racially diverse community and developing strong labor-management collaboration."