The Minneapolis City Council voted Thursday to approve the creation of two new positions within the police department’s command staff, the first phase of an administrative shakeup Chief Brian O’Hara believes is necessary to prepare for surveillance under a federal consent decree.
Council members signed off on O’Hara’s request to name a second assistant police chief and reclassify the chief of staff job — historically held by a sworn officer — as a civilian role. He cited the move as a way to increase accountability among the upper echelons of department management.
The proposal was adopted 12-1. Council member LaTrisha Vetaw cast the lone dissenting vote.
“Four months ago, when I voted to appoint the chief, I hoped he would come here, provide leadership, vision and strategy to move this department forward,” she said. “I have not yet seen a concrete plan or strategy for how the department should move forward in the right direction.”
Vetaw lamented that repeated attempts to gather more details about O’Hara’s long-term goals for the agency have not produced enough evidence to support the idea that these positions would improve public safety in her department.
But colleagues — including two longtime vocal critics of the MPD — countered that O’Hara’s recent presentation, outlining his desire to build an executive leadership team that more closely reflects the hierarchy of the Minneapolis Fire Department, had met their desire for transparency.
“I had a lot of skepticism,” said Councilman Jeremiah Ellison, whose concerns were lifted by assurances that salaries for the job would come out of the existing MPD budget.
“These are positions that exist regardless of who the staff and management are. But I think our current boss gave a good rationale for this.”
On Tuesday, O’Hara appeared before the Committee of the Whole for more than an hour to field questions and explain his proposal for an organizational chart that splits major divisions between two assistant chiefs. One would be responsible for overseeing all crime-fighting operations, such as investigations and patrols; the other is tasked with directing community outreach and internal affairs to ensure officers uphold principles of procedural justice.
“This structure communicates what we think is important,” he said. “If we are serious about implementing the consent decree, we should communicate it – not just to the community, but in the department.”
As second in command, the assistant chief has traditionally managed the day-to-day operations of the department, freeing the chief to focus on major policy issues. That role has largely been vacant for over a year while Henry Halvorson is out on extended sick leave.
O’Hara appointed 28-year department veteran Amelia Huffman, who served as interim police chief after the retirement of Medaria Arradondo, to fill the position of acting assistant chief last November. But in recent months, Huffman has distanced himself from MPD operations while embedded in the city attorney’s office to work on preparations for pending legal deals with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the US Justice Department.
In April 2021, one day after former MPD officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction for killing George Floyd, the US Department of Justice launched an investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a “pattern and practice” of systemic discrimination and illegal conduct, including whether officers used excessive force during protests. This investigation is ongoing and is expected to result in the federal consent decree.
After a two-year investigation, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found last April that the MPD had engaged in a pattern of violations of the state’s civil rights law over the past decade and failed to hold problem officers accountable while making stops, searches, arrests, and uses of force people of color—especially blacks—were much taller than white people.
The newly approved position of assistant chief — with an annual salary ranging from $159,921 to $189,576 — would be tailored to crime prevention and strengthening public relations through engagement and recruitment.
O’Hara is also asking the state legislature to repeal a 1961 state law limiting the number of deputy chiefs in the agency to three. If given that flexibility, he intends to shift a deputy chief to lead Internal Affairs, which currently falls under the Bureau of Professional Standards, and appoint another to directly oversee work on the expected consent decree.