Minneapolis Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander on his vision for the city

A person speaks at a podium
In August, Cedric Alexander was sworn in as the new Minneapolis community safety commissioner.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: Oct. 5, 8:38 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 4, 12:05 p.m.

Cedric Alexander took over in August as the first Minneapolis community safety commissioner. Last week he helped Mayor Jacob Frey announce Newark, N.J., deputy mayor Brian O’Hara as his candidate to be the next Minneapolis chief.

O'Hara's nomination is expected to be formally introduced to the council when it meets Thursday. The nomination will then go through the committee process which will include a public hearing. A spokesperson for the mayor says they hoping the council will vote on O'Hara's nomination in November. If approved, he and Alexander will be the new faces of Minneapolis policing, safety and accountability.

Alexander spoke with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer about how he is steering the new Minneapolis public safety operation and how O’Hara fits into that vision.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.  

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] INTERVIEWER: And leading our program, the Minneapolis City could have a new police chief by this Thursday. The Minneapolis City Council meets later this week to confirm the nomination of Brian O'Hara as chief. O'Hara has more than 20 years in law enforcement. He was appointed public safety director and eventually deputy mayor of Newark, New Jersey. If he's approved, Brian O'Hara would work closely with Minneapolis's new community safety commissioner, Dr. Cedric Alexander.

Alexander started his new job in August. He, too, is a law enforcement veteran with a degree in clinical psychology. Cedric Alexander is on the line. Good afternoon.

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Good afternoon. How are you?

INTERVIEWER: I'm good so far so good. Thank you. Now, you help select a police chief finalist Brian O'Hara. Why do you think he's the right person for the job?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Well, I probably think the mayor made a pick based on his experience and having an opportunity to sit down with Mr. O'Hara on a number of occasions and from my conversations with him, he really was drawn towards his experience.

And along with that, I think the conversations where you get to know people more intimately-- and the mayors are very good judge of character-- I think sensed in him something that would be a good fit for this city at this time. So I think that's really most of it, experienced, very nice experience, humble, young man that I think can be a benefit to this city and to the police department.

INTERVIEWER: How would you rate what he did in Newark, which has a police department with a similar reputation of that of the MPD?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Well, I mean, I really can't rate it. I mean, I don't like to answer those kind of questions because he never worked for me. But if we look at his history there, there's evidence to suggest that he did a great job. He was supported by his bosses, the mayor of there. And I think the experience that he brings will transfer here and help us through these challenging times that we're going through.

INTERVIEWER: Newark's PD, as I say, has a similar reputation, but the culture is different. And the MPD's culture is different, obviously. I know Mr. O'Hara got an earful at a community meet and greet last week when someone told him the MPD looks at the Black community as combatants, like we're at war. Now, it's a tall order, as you know, to change a culture. Where do you start?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Where you start wherever you can. I came here, I was sworn in August 8, and certainly there's a lot going on. But let me acknowledge the fact though that, yes, cultures change is needed in a number of systems. But I think the men and women inside Minneapolis Police Department are looking forward to moving forward.

I've attended a number of roll calls, spoken with a lot of them individually. They are committed to the mission of keeping this community safe. And I think you can't ask for any more than that. And certainly we can never forget what has happened in the past. But as we look forward, it will be Brian O'Hara's responsibility-- should he get voted in by the council, it will be his responsibility to guide the department to a new place.

And that was what I will be looking for in my evaluation of him because he will be reporting directly to me along with four other police executives from fire and office emergency management, violence prevention, and 9-1-1. So he had have an opportunity to sit with other senior executives like himself, to be able to share new ideas, and take on new ventures so that we can have a platform of public safety that will cover this city, utilizing all of the assets that we have.

INTERVIEWER: You say that he's going to report directly to you. He's got this background as a deputy mayor, so I'm thinking he should have some good insight into your role. But do you worry about butting heads at all?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: No, I'm not concerned about butting heads. And I'm not going to go down that road, no, not at all. At the end of the day, everybody knows their place in the organization. I will maintain the position I do as a commission. Those folks will report to me. That is openly clear. So I'm not concerned about that whatsoever. We are a team, and we're a team that work together, and we're going to be a team that moves forward.

INTERVIEWER: As you say, I've only been in the job since August, early August. How are you creating a road map for your position?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Every day. The number one thing for me, of course, is public safety. And we've committed a couple of ideas that we put out on the street that's helping to negate some of this crime that we have been dealing with across the city. So me, for me, it's a day by faith.

The other thing is, is having the responsibility of keeping up the morale and the spirit of 550 officers that we have left in this department. We're down over 200 officers. So one of the key factors of any leader is being able to keep your folks inspired, particularly when you're working with those number of shortages.

So for me, it's about keeping them inspired. It's about knowing that they have leadership in the top that cares about what they do out there on the street and there to support them but also reinforcing the fact that we have a very important role in the history too that we must get past with this community over time and we will. But we have a lot of dedicated men and women who are out there every day at this very moment who are feeling inspired and who are doing the job and getting the job done for us.

INTERVIEWER: You haven't been around long. I know you're just-- you're learning the ropes. Anything surprised you so far?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: No, this is not my first rodeo so, no, I'm not. It's a new community, but I've been in this kind of position before, just under another title. So this is not new, but, of course, the community is new. And you have a slightly different culture here as you would find in any part of the country that you work in.

So for me, the moving from the positions I've had in the past to where I am now is one which for me comes with a great deal of experience. So I don't feel overwhelmed. By any stretch of the imagination, my primary focus is to be able to stay focused on this job, help the mayor carry out his mission around public safety. That's what he hired me to do, and that's what I will continue to do.

And we're gracefully moving along, a little bit at a time. And we understand that this is certainly a challenge at this time in this community. But you know what? I'll tell you, you got people in this community from neighborhoods to business community inside your police department all across this city and all across this region who are in great support of this city and want to see this city do well. And we're moving in that direction of doing well.

And I truly have to applaud people from North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis, downtown, across the city, our business community, our corporate community. Everyone is jumping in and lending a hand and doing what needs to be done to keep a safe community here in this city.

INTERVIEWER: I have about a minute left here, sir. So I'm curious, if Mr. O'Hara is confirmed by the Minneapolis City Council as police chief, what are your first marching orders for him?

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Well, I think it's important and certainly I have chief too departments in the past and had someone I had to report to. But I think for anybody that's coming in to an organization, you have to allow them time, one, to get to know the space that they're in, to get to know people in the community, the men and women inside the organization, get a sense and a feel of where they are, and allow them an opportunity to make their own observations, their own decisions about who they want in a variety of different positions that may come about because they will soon assume responsibility of those persons.

And I want to be there to support each one of my department heads, and the chief is just one of the five. But I want to support all of them equally, allow them an opportunity to do their jobs, hold them accountable to do their jobs because there will be a great deal of accountability attached to this. So we all are looking forward to the next chief being confirmed in this city so that we can continue to move forward in our efforts.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Cedric Alexander, thank you for your time.

DR. CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Thank you very much for having me.

INTERVIEWER: Cedric Alexander is Minneapolis's new commissioner of community safety.

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