Crime, Law and Justice

Frey picks Hennepin County judge as new Minneapolis community safety head

Three people in suits and uniforms02
Fire Chief Bryan Tyner (left) and Police Chief Brian O'Hara (right) are pictured with Hennepin County Chief Judge Todd Barnette (center), Mayor Jacob Frey's nominee for community safety commissioner.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has tapped Toddrick Barnette, currently Hennepin County’s chief judge, to be the city’s next community safety commissioner.

Barnette is a “rare talent” who has the public safety and managerial experience to lead the agency, Frey told reporters Monday as he announced his pick to replace Cedric Alexander, who resigned after less than a year in the newly created position that combined five departments, including Minneapolis police.

The Minneapolis City Council must approve the selection.

Frey noted that prior to becoming a county judge Barnette worked as a public defender and a prosecutor, giving him experience with crime victims and offenders. As chief judge, he’s overseen the work of more than 60 judges and 550 employees.

Barnette said he was eager to work with Minneapolis residents, city and regional leaders to remake public safety but added there was “no quick fix” to the problems.

Asked why he would leave the bench for this job, he said he saw this as an opportunity. “It’s not just talk anymore. In Minneapolis, it’s about action and moving things forward,” he said. “Reimagining public safety got me excited.”

Barnette promised a transparent operation but asked for patience in the effort to transform policing.

The formation of the community safety department stemmed from pressure placed on the city to reform public safety in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. Floyd's killing led to investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that found widespread racial discrimination in the MPD.

The Justice Department found the MPD’s culture and practices created the “systemic problems” that made Floyd’s killing possible.

In July, a Hennepin County judge approved a plan for court oversight of the MPD that state human rights officials say will compel the police to make “transformational changes” around public safety and racial discrimination.

Alexander clashed with some council members who opposed his appointment and later engaged in high-profile disputes on Twitter with residents that earned him a reprimand from the mayor.

Lee Sheehy, interim deputy chief operations officer for the city, has been overseeing the community safety office on an interim basis since Alexander’s exit.