MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Hennepin County’s Chief Judge Todd Barnette is in position to become the next Community Safety Commissioner of Minneapolis.
Barnette is Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's nominee for the high-profile position, and he is set to go before the city council where he will be put under the microscope for a public confirmation hearing next week.
Barnette told FOX 9’s Paul Blume during a one-on-one interview at Minneapolis City Hall that he is excited about the challenge, acknowledging there will be a lot of politics and plenty of scrutiny as the highest-paid public employee in Minneapolis. Barnette, who has no experience either as a police or fire chief, or running an emergency management office, has spent the last few weeks familiarizing himself with the five agencies he will oversee – Police, Fire, Emergency Management, 911 and Neighborhood Safety – in advance of his Oct. 17 confirmation hearing.
The 57-year-old Barnette shared some early visions for a reimagined public safety model, one, where if at all possible, the last contact for a community member in distress is an officer wearing the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) badge.
Below are excerpts from Barnette’s conversation with Blume:
Judge Barnette: "I have been saying this. We have these five departments. Police gets a lot of attention, right? But they are at the end of the road. Neighborhood safety, that is our crime prevention right there, further up the road. You have got to build this up in these alternative responses that we are having so that people aren't having this interaction with the police. So, that's important. The work that's being done in this area is important."
Blume: "You want police to be the last resort?"
Judge Barnette: "I do, I really do. I mean, there is a place where they need to be called, but in areas where we know it is appropriate for a different response, that's what we should do."
Blume: "There have been some big headlines here out of City Hall, the Third Precinct. As you started to look at this agency, MPD. Do you want the police back in the neighborhood they are patrolling? Do you have a position on where the third gets rebuilt?"
Judge Barnette: "I don't have a position on where the third gets built. I know what's been in the paper about it, but at this point, I don't have a position. I know that there are leaders working on this area and there's policy decision-makers working on it."
Blume: "You have never been a police chief, a fire chief, never run a 911 department. What does the learning curve look like?"
Judge Barnette: "I am lucky enough to have five department heads that are experts in those areas. I have learned a lot about each department, but I think the thing for people to understand is that I have been working in Minneapolis since 1991, being a law clerk in the public defender's office and then later being an attorney and a supervisor, then for the county attorney, and now for the last 17 years, a judge. So, there are certain parts of this that I know, right? And there might be some things that I need to, questions I have, or just get into the weeds in different areas. And there's definitely parts that I just don't know about. And they are helping bring me up to speed on it."
Blume: "Do you live in the city of Minneapolis?"
Judge Barnette: "No."
Blume: "Do you think this position requires someone to actually live in the city and be a resident and taxpayer here?"
Judge Barnette: "I know that there is no requirement at this point to live in the city. What I can say, is that for over, I think now 30 years, all of my work has been here in the city. So, I feel like I have a good handle on what is going on in the city. You know, I can't think of anything, any work or volunteer work that I have done that is not in the city of Minneapolis."
Blume: "We have had so much excitement downtown recently with the Twins. How important in your mind is a safe, clean, comfortable downtown?"
Judge Barnette: "Well, downtown is one community in Minneapolis. All communities here should feel safe, not just downtown. So, I am glad that people are starting to come back downtown, and people are feeling safe. But I think it is my responsibility to look at all of Minneapolis and the safety around the city."