Updated: 10:27 a.m. | Posted: 4 a.m.
Medaria Arradondo's calm, soft-spoken demeanor and reputation for respecting others makes it easy to wonder whether he's tough enough to be the city's next police chief.
Art Knight, however, knows better. A Minneapolis police lieutenant who's worked alongside Arradondo, Knight recalled a roll call conversation once where Arradondo made it sharp as nails where he stood and what he expected of the officers around him.
"He said, 'If you go out there and you do your job, I will support you 100 percent. But if you're out there violating people's rights, and doing stuff you should not be doing, I will be the first person to put you underneath the jail,'" Knight told a City Hall hearing last week on Arradondo's nomination.
Arradondo, 50, has risen through the ranks over his 28-year-career. On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to approve him as the next chief. He becomes the city's first African-American to hold that crucial job.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, the Roosevelt High School graduate has said that as a young man he came to understand the roots of tension between his community and police, and he decided to do something about it. "Rondo," as he's known, has pledged to make police accountability, restoring public trust in the department and reforming police culture top priorities.
It won't be easy. While he comes into the job with the support of the city's political class and its police force — police union president Lt. Bob Kroll said his only Arradondo criticism is that he may be "too nice" — the same problems that vexed ex-chief Janeé Harteau still shout out for answers.
Here's what will demand Arradondo's attention immediately after he's sworn in.
A frequent complaint about past police chiefs is the rate at which they discipline officers who are the subjects of citizen complaints. Out of 52 sustained complaints brought before Harteau since the third quarter of 2015, 27 cases resulted in coaching, which is not considered discipline. Fifteen cases resulted in letters of reprimand; 13 resulted in suspensions; four in terminations. One officer was demoted.
In 2016 an arbitrator overturned a termination issued by Harteau. That officer, Blayne Lehner, was given his job back and about $40,000 in back pay.
Critics of the civilian review process have said the current system doesn't deter officers from engaging in misconduct. And complaints which are addressed in the courts are costing city tax payers millions of dollars. Since 2003 the city has paid out more than $24.4 million in settlements, judgments and claims over police misconduct lawsuits.
Restoring public trust
The fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk by officer Mohamed Noor in July is the latest in a series of incidents that have shaken public trust in the department and the one that led to Harteau's ouster.
One of the many things setting this shooting apart from others is that both Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity were wearing body cameras, but didn't turn them on in time to capture what happened.
Police and city leaders who championed the purchase and implementation of cameras hoped they would foster a greater since of trust. But the absence of camera footage from the night Ruszczyk was shot as she approached the open window of a police car has deepened divisions between some members of the community and the department.
Arradondo's first act as acting chief was to modify the department's policy to require officers to activate cameras on all calls for service.
Reforming police culture
This is one thing that makes some people skeptical about Arradondo's appointment. They point out that as a 28-year veteran of the force, Arradondo is part of the very culture he's trying to change. Arradondo's supporters, however, counter that this may be his greatest strength.
"Rondo is the right choice for this task because he is himself an agent of change in a way that few others are or have been," Mayor Betsy Hodges said recently, referring to Arradondo's choice to file a discrimination suit against the Minneapolis Police Department on behalf of himself and four other black police officers. The case was later settled for $740,000. Arradondo's portion of the settlement was $187,000.
"He could have taken that settlement and walked away, but he did not," Hodges said. "He stayed in the department because it is how he wanted to serve the people of Minneapolis."
Arrandondo will not have to reinvent the wheel as chief. Under his predecessor, Harteau, the department began implementing changes designed to accomplish many of the same goals Arradondo has set.
Under Harteau's MPD 2.0 effort, the department provided procedural justice training, implicit bias training and expanded training for all officers to handle situations with people experiencing mental health emergencies.
Harteau has said she's confident Arradondo will successfully continue that work. And it's clear for now that the public sees Rondo as a path forward.
At the same hearing where Knight spoke of Arradondo's toughness, Ezra Hyland said the incoming chief's willingness to treat others with dignity and respect should not be viewed as weakness.
"True strength is perseverance," said Hyland. "And for a man of color to rise through the ranks in an institution that is often hostile to people of color shows that he has the strength to make the changes that need to be made."