People who have worked closely with the man tapped to lead Minneapolis’ embattled police department say he has qualities that will fit well with the role: He’s friendly, forthright, has deep city roots and is African-American, which could help improve sour relations between police and the city’s black community.
But Medaria Arradondo’s rise from school resource officer and patrolman to assistant chief during 28 years on the force has some wondering whether an outsider would be better suited to changing the culture of a department accused of being too quick to use force.
Facing public anger over an officer’s fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed, white 40-year-old Australian woman who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home, Mayor Betsy Hodges asked police Chief Janee Harteau to resign, which she did Friday. Hodges nominated Arradondo as Harteau’s replacement and dismissed protesters’ calls for her to resign, too.
“Inside the department, outside the department, fans, critics, everybody — he builds relationships with people, which is going to be crucial as the department moves forward,” Hodges told The Associated Press Saturday. “What’s needed at this time is someone who is good at making change and helping usher people through change, which Arradondo has done and is doing,”
The police department has stepped up training in recent years, focusing on community policing, Hodges said. She said Arradondo will work to cement those changes.
Arradondo, nicknamed “Rondo,” needs the city council’s approval before he can begin the job. He served as the department’s public face for most of a week after the July 15 police shooting of Justine Damond, until Harteau returned from vacation on Thursday.
Linea Palmisano, a city councilwoman who represents the ward where the shooting happened, said she’s impressed with Arradondo, but wonders if someone from outside the department would be better able to make changes and enforce procedures such as turning on body cameras.
Neither the Somali-American officer who shot Damond, Mohamed Noor, nor the officer with him, Matthew Harrity, turned on their body cameras.
Others say an insider is exactly what the department needs: Someone who was brought up in the Twin Cities and can spot the dysfunction beneath “Minnesota nice.”
“He’s a fifth-generation Minnesotan, and he’s appreciated and well-respected as a police officer,” said Raeisha Williams, a 5th Ward city council candidate and the former communications director for the local NAACP. “He’s African-American, obviously, and he knows the climate, he knows the community, he knows the culture.”
That’s vitally important when policing a region where 40 percent of residents are people of color, Williams said.
Arradondo has also experienced discrimination: He and four other officers sued the city in 2007 alleging they were the victims of systemic racial discrimination and a hostile working environment. They contended black officers were offered fewer training and overtime opportunities and received fewer appointments than white counterparts, among other problems. The city settled two years later, paying the officers a total of $740,000.
Williams dealt closely with Arradondo following the 2015 police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man whose death sparked large protests and an 18-day occupation outside of the north side police station. The officers involved weren’t charged.
Williams said Arradondo was respectful. Arradondo’s hometown experience contrasts with many officers who live outside the city, in mostly-white communities, Williams said.
“So they come in with bias because they’re not racially diverse in their own environment,” she said. “It feels like they’re the predators and we’re the prey.”
Large police departments like Minneapolis often struggle with bureaucracy, inertia and political pressures, said Remy Cross, an associate professor of criminology at Webster University. Arradondo’s department history gives him more credibility to make changes, Cross noted.
“But it’s still going to be a real up-hill kind of fight,” he said. “He has to walk carefully here and not alienate (fellow officers).”
Police Lt. Bob Kroll, Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis president, frequently criticized the former chief and the mayor. Kroll says Arradondo is smart and respected by the rank and file.
“One of the first calls he made was to me yesterday. We had a good talk,” Kroll said.
Kroll said the department is understaffed, with 30 authorized positions going unfilled. He says Arradondo should fill those positions immediately and seek authorization to hire more.
“It hurts your engagement with the community — the officers are short tempered, they don’t take time on the calls,” Kroll said.
Kroll says the department should focus on what he calls “proactive policing,” where officers stop people for minor infractions or suspicious behavior. Critics point out that approach easily turns into police profiling, which contributes to increased police violence.
“The only people that are using the term ‘profiling’ are committing crimes and they want to get away with the little crimes so they can commit the bigger crimes,” he said.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is overseeing the investigation into Damond’s shooting. Noor is not required to submit to an interview with the bureau and has not agreed to one or provided a statement, the bureau said Friday. The bureau also said a cyclist who was nearby when the shooting happened spoke to investigators.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that an unnamed source with direct knowledge of the investigation said a witness filmed part of the encounter. It doesn’t say whether that video includes the actual shooting or only the aftermath.