As Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo prepares to fill a key leadership post, he spent a couple of hours Thursday asking for guidance from people who live in the 4th Precinct. The job of inspector has been open since early December, after photos of a racist Christmas display at precinct headquarters became public.
Leading the 4th Precinct is one of the toughest assignments in the Minneapolis Police Department. In recent years inspectors have had to navigate major challenges in police community relations — particularly the protests after the 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African-American man, by officers.
Last November, two officers decorated the station's Christmas tree with a pack of Newport cigarettes, beer cans, police tape and a cup from a fried chicken restaurant.
Community leaders denounced the display as racist. The department put the officers allegedly involved on paid leave, and Arradondo demoted Inspector Aaron Biard. At a public gathering Thursday night on the north side, Arradondo apologized for the incident.
"Those actions do not reflect the values, the core values of the Minneapolis Police Department," the chief said. "And absolutely the men and women, the vast majority of us would never condone such conduct. So I want to give my apologies and say I'm sorry to each and every one of you."
Arradondo said he will likely choose the next 4th Precinct inspector from among a dozen high-ranking officers. Besides interviewing each of them personally, the chief is also listening to north side residents, including entrepreneur Marques Armstrong.
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"We just really want someone who is going to understand and treat this community as they would treat their own community, and get to know us. And show that compassion that they would show their own family members, how they would want someone to treat their mother," Armstrong said.
Sherri Orr, who also lives on the north side, is seeking similar qualities in the next inspector.
Orr found the Christmas tree incident highly offensive. Many of her neighbors, as well as Mayor Jacob Frey, had called for the officers involved to be fired. Orr takes a different view.
"I don't believe you can retrain a person's brain and sit them down and take them to cultural sensitivity training," Orr said. "If they need to be hit in their pockets — not to be fired — but we will deduct from pay, from whatever it takes. That's when you get a person's attention and you can regulate their respect."
Nearly three months later, the officers — whom the department has not named — are still on paid leave. Arradondo said the internal affairs investigation continues.
"My understanding is that it'll be wrapping up at some point in time fairly soon but the case for now is still an open investigation," he said
Arradondo plans to conduct another round of interviews with the candidates, before possibly naming a new inspector sometime in April.