Simultaneous searches for police chiefs in Minnesota's two largest cities pose many of the same questions about public safety and politics, along with a question the two cities have answered differently in recent years: whether to fill the top cop position with an outsider or a veteran of the agency. Pioneer Press columnist Rubén Rosario writes that the searches in Minneapolis and St. Paul, both months from completion, likely will diverge on the insider question, if the departments' histories are any guide.
A "surprising number of Minneapolis police supervisors expressed support if not a desire for an outsider" in a recent meeting with the city's search firm, Rosario's source told him. That city's next hire will replace department veteran Medaria Arradondo, who left in January. But three of Minneapolis' seven chiefs in the past 42 years have come from outside the department. St. Paul's five chiefs during that same period have all come up through the ranks. St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen and fellow council member Jane Prince believe the next police chief will once again come from in-house because the SPPD culture, reputation and ways of doing things are different from those in Minneapolis. “The chief” — Todd Axtell, who steps down June 1 — “has done a really good job of mentoring, training and supporting rising stars in the police department,” Brendmoen explained. “I think there’s a strong possibility that the candidate is internal here because we are a strong police department." Minneapolis poses more of a challenge because a new chief will not only have to contend with the residue of controversial incidents like the murder of George Floyd but also the likelihood of a federally mandated consent decree that would force the department under court order to make recommended changes, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. This week, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights concluded in a 72-page report that there is probable cause to believe that the city and its police department have engaged “in a pattern or practice of race discrimination” in at least the past 10 years.
“Generally, you ask: Are things going well?” Wexler said. “And if they are, the tendency is to stay within. And if you have a department where things are not necessarily going well or you fundamentally want to make change or you are dramatically trying to change the culture, then your search is more extensive.”