Hashim Abdullahi grew up in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, where he says police-community relationships are, at times, tense. Many of his friends and acquaintances had scuffles with the law over the years.
“Truthfully speaking, I think minorities there feel they are being picked on, my community especially,” said Abdullahi, who immigrated from Ethiopia via a Kenyan refugee camp at age 10. “There is some distrust for police officers.”
Now, Abdullahi believes he can help change some of these perceptions. He is one of Columbia Heights’ two new police officers. The Columbia Heights Police Department has hired its first Ethiopian- and Somali-American officers.
Abdullahi and Mohammed Farah were both sworn in on Thursday in front of a crowd of family, friends, city officials and fellow officers.
The suburb of 20,000 on Minneapolis’ north border is about 35 percent minority. According to the U.S. Census, 15.5 percent of the city’s population is foreign born. Its police chief has stressed community policing and community outreach and said this is the natural progression — hire officers who reflect the community the police serve. The small department has 27 sworn officers.
“We have an amazing team. We did have some gaps in our team in serving our community,” said Chief Scott Nadeau. The new officers bring cultural and language skills as well as the education needed to do the job. Abdullahi, 25, speaks four languages. He has an associate degree in law enforcement and has worked as a security officer at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. He owns a home in Brooklyn Park and is married, and the couple is expecting a child in two months.
Farah, 27, speaks two languages. He immigrated to Rochester, Minn., from Somalia as a teenager. He earned his bachelor’s degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He served as a volunteer reserve officer with Mankato police, worked with troubled youth in a group home setting and worked at a school in Rochester before joining the Columbia Heights force.
Mayor Gary Peterson attended last week’s ceremony and expressed his support.
Both officers say their families support their career move but initially balked a bit at the risks involved.
“My family was concerned because I was born and raised in a war zone in Ethiopia. They didn’t want anything to do with guns,” Abdullahi said. “They were afraid at times but they supported me in the long run.”
Farah said his parents expressed similar sentiments.
“My parents are like, ‘We brought you here for a reason. We don’t want you to carry guns.’ ” Farah said. “Obviously, they wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer.”
Farah said their work will be twofold. They will bring some cultural knowledge to the department but will also help immigrant communities better understand laws and expectations in their new country.
“I hope to build those bridges — educate the community about the laws and work with our peers about cultural differences,” Farah said.
Both officers say the department’s emphasis on community outreach was appealing.
“One of the things that attracted me is their core values being committed to helpfulness, dedication to the community and their professionalism toward their community and community involvement,” Abdullahi said. “I wanted to become part of it.”