'Rondo' rose through police ranks to helm a department under pressure

Assistant Police Chief Mederia Arradondo
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Assistant Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and City Council Member Linea Palmisano speak to the media following the death of Justine Ruszczyk.
Peter Cox | MPR News

The first thing you should know about acting chief Medaria Arradondo is that nearly everyone calls him Rondo. Very soon they may call him Chief Rondo.

On Friday, Mayor Betsy Hodges announced Arradondo as her choice to run the police department. If approved, he will become the city's first black police chief.

However, it hasn't taken long for Hodges to find out that not everyone applauds her decision to promote him.

Just minutes into the mayor's Friday night press conference at City Hall, a few dozen protesters filed in, demanding Hodges' own resignation. As they grew more boisterous, Hodges left the room.

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Activist Mel Reeves, who is African-American, took over the podium and explained why he doesn't want Arradondo to be the next chief.

"We understand that Chief Arradondo looks like us, right?" said Reeves. "But we understand that he's not one of us. That he works for a police department that has a history of brutalizing us."

Reeves and many others in the crowd of demonstrators have protested against the department in the wake of the police shooting deaths of Terrance Franklin and Jamar Clark, two black men shot and killed by police officers under Harteau's watch. They say what's needed is to knock down the institution of policing and rebuild it.

Deputy Chief Medaria Arradondo
Minneapolis Deputy Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo talks to demonstrators outside the police department's 4th Precinct Nov. 20, 2015, during protests against the police shooting death of Jamar Clark.
Aaron Bolton | MPR News

Arrandondo has been the name and face of the institution over the last week as he stood in for former chief Harteau at press briefings to address developments in the Justine Ruszczyk shooting.

Former Minneapolis police officer Alisa Clemons said she's a fan of Arradondo. Her brother Alfred Flowers is running for mayor. Clemons says Arradondo's promotion should make other black people feel proud.

"And I think that it's insulting for us as African-Americans to stand in a room and say, 'we don't want that appointment' of an African-American that would be the highest ranking African American in the city of Minneapolis, who has worked really hard to mend relationships," said Clemons.

On Friday night, after demonstrators left, Hodges returned to the podium to resume her press conference. When asked why she didn't choose someone from outside the department Hodges said Arradondo's resume and reputation were enough for her.

"It was clear to me that the relationships that assistant chief, soon to be chief Arradondo has, and the relationships he's been able to build in the community, that he is a very smart, positive leader for the future," said Hodges.

According to police federation president Lt. Bob Kroll, Arradondo is well-liked and respected by his colleagues.

"If I had to pick one thing that maybe to chief Arradondo's detriment is that he is, he's almost too nice," said Kroll.

Kroll said he supports Hodges' choice.

Arradondo was born and raised in Minneapolis. He joined the force in 1989 and slowly moved through the ranks. Harteau appointed him as her assistant chief in April.

Arradondo has spent much of his career trying to mend relations between the department and communities of color. In the early 2000s Arradondo was a department representative on the Police Community Relations Council. The panel was created by the federal Department of Justice to address historic tensions and disparities in the city.

Arradondo has had his own problems with the department. In 2007, he and four other black officers sued the department for racial discrimination. The officers claimed they had been passed over for promotions, lost out on overtime pay and unfairly disciplined, all because they are African-American.

Attorney John Klassen represented Arradondo and the other officers. He said Arradondo is passionate about racial justice. Klassen said at first Arradondo was reluctant to follow through on the lawsuit because it could hurt his beloved police department and his hometown.

"Because it was a hot button, flashpoint issue on race," said Klassen.

But Klassen said Arradondo wanted the city to take a serious look at racial discrimination in the department. The city settled the suit for $740,000.

Arradondo could have taken his cut of the settlement and left. But he stayed.

In 2013 he told MPR News that as a kid growing up in Minneapolis, he heard stories from members of his community which illustrated the problems many black residents have with police.

He said that inspired him to be a part of the solution.

"Someone told me a long time ago, it's much easier to be on the outside looking in and raising a concern about a problem," said Arradondo. "It's much more difficult to be that person on the inside to speak up, stand out, raise the issue and still stay in there to try and change it for the better."

Arradondo is now poised to be the ultimate insider. The city council could vote within the next several weeks on his appointment to fill out the remaining 18 months of Harteau's term.