Minneapolis police chief considering San Jose job: ‘I’m humbled that they’ve shown interest’

By: - January 26, 2021 4:09 pm

Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, seen here in 2015, outside of the 4th Precinct Police Station after 5 people were shot at a Black Lives Matters protest November 24, 2015. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Update: Since this story was published, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo withdrew his application for police chief of San Jose. A spokesman for the police department announced the decision on Tuesday evening in a news release, writing “He remains committed to our city’s public safety work to enact transformational change here in Minneapolis.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo declined to say why he’s considering leaving the top job of the department even as it struggles through the one of biggest crises in its history.

Arradondo will participate in a public, live-streamed interview on Saturday for the top police job in San Jose, California, along with five other finalists for the position.

“You don’t pick and choose the time that a recruiter is going to reach out to you,” Arradondo said in an interview with the Reformer on Tuesday. “Recruitment of chiefs of police do not always happen in times where things are going, as others would like to say, ‘smooth.’ ”

Arradondo’s star has risen nationally since he became chief despite the challenges the department has faced under his leadership, including the May 25 police killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests and riots that led to a police station being abandoned and lit on fire along with dozens of buildings across the city. A wave of resignations, retirements and disability claims followed, along with a spike in gun violence.

The police department is also being investigated by the state Department of Human Rights to determine if the department has engaged in systemic racial discrimination over the past 10 years.

“I’m humbled that they’ve shown interest. Minneapolis has really been recognized as a leader across the country in terms of everything from our technology to putting out our data for our community to see, our community engagement pieces, our trainings and policies,” said Arradondo, the first Black police chief in Minneapolis.

Arradondo says he’s been recruited a number of times since he became chief. The job in San Jose comes with a significant pay increase and likely less fraught politics, too.

Floyd’s killing launched more than half of the city council on a campaign to dismantle the police department and build an entirely new agency from the ground up, casting doubt on Arradondo’s future at the helm of the department he took over less than four years ago.

While the dismantle-and-replace effort was derailed by the city’s unelected charter commission last year, some on the city council revived the push to put the issue before voters this fall.

That forced Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey — both opposed to dismantling the department — into the difficult position of defending the police department they’re also promising to transform.

Although the mayor controls the police department, the city council exerted its influence on the budget, moving $7.7 million from the department into other community safety and violence prevention efforts.

Violent crime and homicides in Minneapolis and cities across the country have reached their highest levels since the 1990s amid the pandemic, the economic crisis that followed for many low-wage workers and the push to dissolve the department.

Arradondo says even as he applies for another job, he’s working to reform the police department and address the surge in violent crime.

“I’m staying focused on the work at hand here in Minneapolis. The transformative work continues to be done,” Arradondo said.

A south Minneapolis native, Arradondo joined the force as a patrol officer working on the city’s north side in 1989. He worked his way up the ranks but then joined other Black officers who sued the department for racial discrimination, winning a settlement.

He led the Internal Affairs department charged with investigating police misconduct before being appointed chief in 2017.

Arradondo’s rise to the top job followed the police killing of Justine Damond, an unarmed woman who called 911 to report a potential assault. Janee Harteau was forced to resign and Arradondo became chief.

Arradondo has said restoring public trust in the department and transforming its culture are his top priorities. He has emphasized recruitment as part of that effort, while also pointing to the powerful police union, arbitration and the state Legislature as barriers to reform.

A December investigation by the Reformer revealed systemic failures by the department to hold problem officers accountable in some 3,300 pages of disciplinary files obtained through a lawsuit. The files show the department is slow to discipline officers, taking 539 days on average to resolve a complaint that results in discipline.

Following that investigation, Arradondo and Frey announced the city attorney’s office would play a greater role in investigating police misconduct with the aim of speeding up the process and ensuring disciplinary actions are not overturned through arbitration.

The public police chief candidate forum will be streamed live at 8 a.m. on Saturday on San Jose’s YouTube channel. People are able to submit questions to the candidates here.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.