North Mpls. new top cop wants guns off the streets, better relations

Minneapolis Police Lt. Aaron Biard sits for a portrait.
Lt. Aaron Biard sits for a a portrait inside the Minneapolis Police Department's 4th Precinct on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Minneapolis' busiest police precinct has a new leader.

Lt. Aaron Biard took over as 4th Precinct inspector on Sunday, heading the north side precinct with more officers and more reported violent crimes than any other in Minneapolis.

Biard, 46, said some of the keys to successfully policing the city's north side include targeted enforcement, keeping guns off the streets and reaching out to members of the community before crises strike.

During his 22 years on the force, Biard has held a wide range of assignments. He's led the department's In-Service Training Unit and was in charge of asset management and training for SWAT officers.

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Each role has helped him prepare for his current job, he said.

As the head of the Police Athletic League 10 years ago, Biard wrote grants to help secure funding for youth programs. He said his favorite part was getting to know kids and families in north Minneapolis.

"That was my first time really in a nice, positive environment running into so many great people on the north side that are trying to do good for their kids," he said. "I learned a lot in that capacity." Biard grew up on the city's south side and graduated from Washburn High School in 1989. After high school, Biard joined the Army National Guard and was deployed twice to Panama. He said his goal was to come back to Minneapolis and become a police officer.

The 4th Precinct covers north Minneapolis and the Bryn Mawr neighborhood just north of Interstate 394. In 2015, crowds of protesters surrounded the precinct's station for 18 days following the police shooting death of Jamar Clark.

Biard said he's aware of the community tensions that have boiled over Clark's death and high-profile clashes involving police officers. He said that's all the more reason for members of the police department to build strong bonds with community members.

Like precinct inspectors before him, Biard said, he's committed to showing up to every neighborhood meeting and picnic that he can.

Aaron Biard will be the new Minneapolis Police Fourth Precinct Inspector.
Former Chief Harteau appointed Biard as the new 4th Precinct Inspector.
Courtesy Minneapolis Police Dept.

"There's always something in these neighborhoods going on. And I'm very much in support of that mission of being visible, developing relationships, getting to know people in the community," he said. "Those relationships help legitimize the police. And knowing that people can trust us and call us if they need help."

Biard said another way to improve community relations is to be more precise when it comes to enforcing the law.

He said the department has moved away from a philosophy based on the "broken widows" theory of policing, which says the way to stop serious crime is to make a lot of arrests for low-level crimes.

Biard said that style can be effective, but it can also cause people to be stopped unnecessarily and strain police-community relations.

In the precinct, Biard said he sees signs of progress. Officers in the 4th Precinct have taken 364 guns off the street so far this year — a nearly 90 percent increase over this time last year. Violent crime has dipped compared to last year, and about 57 fewer people have been shot in north Minneapolis than this time in 2016.

Biard was chosen by former chief Janeé Harteau earlier this year after her first choice for the position was rejected by Mayor Betsy Hodges.

City Council president Barbara Johnson, who represents part of north Minneapolis, has said Biard is a consummate professional. She's also said her constituents will find him easy to work with.