Minneapolis City Council OKs new police department jobs

It's part of a plan to reorganize the department to prepare for an expected consent decree

Man in city council room
Brian O'Hara was confirmed as the new chief of police with the Minneapolis Police Department on Nov. 3.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The Minneapolis City Council Thursday approved the creation of two new appointed positions in the Minneapolis Police Department. It’s part of Chief Brian O’Hara’s plan to reorganize the department, partly in preparation for an expected federal consent decree. 

Chief Brian O’Hara told council members Tuesday that he wants to hire an assistant police chief to oversee the department’s efforts at building community trust. That position will also be in charge of the city’s internal affairs unit, which O’Hara said he plans to further beef up. 

The council’s vote also covers the creation of a new civilian chief of staff, who will assist O’Hara in duties like preparing the budget, developing long-range plans and representing the chief at public meetings and hearings. 

O’Hara said his reorganization of the department will include another assistant chief overseeing the operations of the department, including investigations, special operations and forensics. 

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“We need to get back to the essential mission of what the police department is, and we need to ensure that the police department is structured to accomplish that mission,” O’Hara said. “We are in the business to ensure public safety in the city, on one side and also to ensure trust and accountability and constitutional policing on the other.” 

Ultimately, O’Hara said he wants to create more accountability in the department by adding a deputy chief to oversee the internal affairs unit. He’d also like to appoint a new deputy chief to oversee the expected consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

The U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting a pattern or practice investigation of the MPD, which was spurred by George Floyd's killing. It usually results in a binding legal agreement called a consent decree, which typically is overseen by an independent monitor.

In order to accomplish those more ambitious plans, O’Hara needs the state Legislature to overturn a law limiting how many deputy chiefs can be on staff in Minneapolis, which is pending. If the state Legislature fails to act this session, O’Hara told council members that the City Council would be able to change the city’s charter by unanimous vote.

Some council members questioned whether the changes to the department would take too many officers off the street and make the department too top-heavy. O’Hara said many of the proposed changes would be required under a consent decree anyway. The only vote against the proposal came from Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw, who heads up the council's public safety committee.

"When I voted to appoint the chief, I was hopeful that he was going to come here, provide leadership, vision and strategy to take this department forward,” Vetaw said. “I have yet to see a concrete plan or strategy around how the department is going to move forward in the right direction."

Frequent MPD critic Council Member Robin Wonsley said she's been pleased with the transparency the chief has demonstrated since his appointment in November. 

“I’m really glad that we do have a leader at least within MPD that’s somewhat receptive for our calls for being more transparent, to have an outline of a vision, not making pinky promises with us for what they’re going to do and what they intend to do,” Wonsley said. “That is a shift in what we’ve seen with his leadership.”

In a separate action on Thursday, the council amended its legislative priorities, asking state lawmakers to give them more tools to prevent disruptions at public meetings and increase penalties against people who threaten public officials or employees. 

The proposals were introduced after recent protests disrupted council meetings. Alleged threats against them led three council members to file police reports. Those proposals to the Legislature passed council 7-6, with one member abstaining.

The amendments to the city’s legislative priorities were proposed by City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano.  

“This is not about protest and it’s not about free speech,” Palmisano said. “It’s about the assaults and threats of violence, and anything less is unacceptable.” 

A man who continually interrupted the council members’ debate on the proposals was removed from the chambers. 

Council President Andrea Jenkins said she abstained from the vote because she doesn't believe increased criminal penalties will help. 

"We have to have decorum and the ability to do our jobs,” Jenkins said. “Somebody said civil disobedience? There is a consequence for civil disobedience, so if you want to break the rules, there are consequences."

Council members opposed to the proposals worried that they could squelch free speech. In order to pass this session, a legislative committee would likely need to take action by tomorrow.