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Published June 13, 2024

Minneapolis community reacts to recent MPD leadership changes

The community discusses thoughts on the Minneapolis Police Department and the recent complaints against the police chief.
Image by Photo by CJ Bonk
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara speaking at a press conference announcing the Department of Justice’s investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department on June 16, 2023.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a new community safety commissioner on Thursday following recent complaints against Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) leadership.

Toddrick Barnette was the former chief judge for Hennepin County’s Fourth Judicial District and will now serve a four-year term overseeing the city’s police, fire and emergency response departments. Barnette will replace Cedric Alexander, who retired from the position on Sept. 1 after being hired last August. 

Abigail Cerra worked as a public defender and served on the city’s Police Conduct Oversight Commission for two years before resigning in 2022. Cerra said she supports Barnette in the new role after previously working with him in the courtroom during his time as a judge.

“What makes him unique is that he also has a certain emotional intelligence,” Cerra said. “He handled his courtroom very well.” 

Barnette’s confirmation comes after city officials hired an outside law firm on Aug. 24 to investigate three recent complaints against MPD Chief Brian O’Hara.

The complaints include allegations of disrespectful and inappropriate behavior toward an Edina Police Department officer, using force on someone during an arrest in Jan. 2022 and failing to report it and lying about not knowing the background of newly hired officer Tyler Timberlake, who was seen on body camera video using excessive force during an arrest. 

Both O’Hara and Barnette have the opportunity to help reform MPD and there is reason to be cautiously optimistic, Cerra said. However, the complaints against O’Hara are important because of his leadership position, and anyone submitting complaints that are found to be false could be arrested. The city is still investigating the complaints.

“No one can even have optimized versions of [complaints],” Cerra said. “All of a sudden, boom, one is against the chief and it’s on the front page of the paper.” 

President of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association Vic Thorstenson said he believes it will be up to city leaders to proactively reform policing in Minneapolis internally.

“The city is under two new mandates, one for the state and once in the federal government, on police reform that really gives the mayor and the chief an opportunity to use that forcefully,” Thorstenson said. “If they don’t, they’re dropping a ball.”

The city agreed to negotiate two consent decrees to reform its policing after both the Justice Department and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found MPD to have engaged in a history of discriminatory and illegal policing. Consent decrees are court-enforceable agreements, and the Justice Department has recommended 28 remedial measures to reform MPD. 

Although he said public safety has improved in Marcy-Holmes over the last two years, Thorstenson added much of MPD’s future reform hinges on the city’s ability to use recommendations for reform in its negotiations with police unions. 

Burhan Israfael, a youth organizer in Cedar-Riverside, said there needs to be a policing reform that adequately serves the people and holds police accountable. 

“It has to be a top-down remodeling,” Israfael said. “Our money, our tax dollars are literally going into paying for that type of protection and we’re not receiving it.” 

Israfael added the idea of having more diverse police that reflect the community does not necessarily create better community relations with the police. Israfel stressed an institutional change within MPD and not only picking out bad apples. 

“You can put in more Somali police officers, or Asian or any other ethnicity and it’s not going to change the institution of policing,” Israfael said. “None of that works.” 

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