Floyd killing: Chief vows changes to put police on 'right side of history'

A man stands in front of a microphone.
“History is being written now and I’m determined to make sure we are on the right side of history,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told reporters Wednesday as he announced plans to reform the department.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated 5:26 p.m.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo vowed Wednesday to make sweeping changes in how business is done in the department in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

In a briefing with reporters, the chief said that among his first steps he was withdrawing from contract talks with the police union. Arradondo said he wants a restructuring of the contract around issues of force, the role of supervisors and how officers are disciplined.

Arradondo expressed his frustration over the difficulty of trying to fire an officer for misconduct, saying there was "nothing more debilitating to a chief” then trying to remove an officer only to have that officer later reinstated and back on the beat.

Arradondo also said he is starting a major review of police practices and seeking ways of spotting problem behavior by police officers using “real-time data and automation to intervene.”

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Following Arradondo’s remarks, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he supported the chief and that the city needed to forge a “new compact” with police, “one that recognizes that the way things have been done for decades and decades is not acceptable.”

Frey specifically called out Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll for being part of the problem. “Lieutenant Kroll has not been helpful in any way, shape or form to generating accountability and measures of reform that we’ve been trying to see through.”

The mayor described the union, the collective bargaining agreement and the state’s mandatory arbitration process as the “elephant in the room” that needs to be changed.

Arradondo sidestepped a question about whether he thought Kroll, often seen as an obstacle to change, should step down.

Anti-union move?

The union's contract expired on Dec. 31 but remains in effect until there is a new one, according to the city’s website. Talks began in October and eventually included a state mediator; the last discussion was in early March, when the coronavirus led to talks breaking off.

Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher said Arradondo’s move to withdraw from contract negotiations with the union is irresponsible and could open the city to a costly lawsuit.

Fletcher said he supports broad defunding of the police department and shifting that money to other social needs.

"To refuse to bargain is considered an unfair labor practice. And so it's very important that we not start behaving in a mode of being anti-union in order to deal with our structural public safety problems,” Fletcher said. “We have to take public safety head on and not put ourselves in a position of committing unfair labor practices."

Floyd’s Memorial Day death sparked protests in the Twin Cities and around the world after bystander video surfaced showing officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck in the street at Chicago Avenue and 38th Street in south Minneapolis as Floyd lay handcuffed and prone, pleading for air.

The medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.

The department is facing calls to be disbanded or defunded in the wake of the killing. State human rights officials are also investigating the past 10 years of Minneapolis police practices for possible civil rights violations.

The FBI is also probing for possible federal civil rights violations.

Arradondo said he’s heard from community members worried that the police might not come if they call 911 but vowed that would not happen. “We will be here for you,” he said.

He encouraged Minnesotans to continue to both ask police officers for help and hold them accountable by filming their actions on smart phones. The chief also vowed to build a new system of policing.

“History is being written now and I’m determined to make sure we are on the right side of history,” he said.

“Race is inextricably part of the American policing system. We will never evolve in this profession if we do not address it head on,” the chief said. “Communities of color have paid the heaviest of costs, and that is with their lives.”

Arradondo made it a point to note that he would not utter Chauvin’s name.

Chauvin and three other officers on the scene that day have been fired. Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughter in the killing. The three other fired officers face aiding and abetting charges.

Chauvin has been held at the state prison in Oak Park Heights. One of the three other officers, Thomas Lane, was released on bail Wednesday afternoon, according to Hennepin County Jail records.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.