Minnesota's Black police chiefs call for focus on recruiting, causes of violent crime

Minnesota's Black police chiefs said Monday that state policymakers must renew their focus on recruiting police officers while inviting a broader conversation about the causes of violent crime.

Minnesota has three Black police chiefs -- St. Cloud's Blair Anderson, Eagan's Roger New, and Metro Transit's Eddie Frizell, who is up for U.S. Marshall -- along with state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. A fourth, former Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, spent his last day in office over the weekend.

Mirroring trends across the U.S., Minnesota's recent history has been turbulent. Murders have hit a record level statewide. Deadly drug overdoses doubled between 2018 and 2020. Traffic fatalities increased to 497 in 2021, up 37 percent from two years earlier.

"How do we get our children back under control? How do we as a community?" Harrington said on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day forum with Anderson, New and other Black public safety officials. "It’s not just the Twin Cities. It’s a conversation I need to have in Duluth, in Rochester, on the reservations and all across the state."

The chiefs said it would require community-wide conversations about the causes of violent crime.

"We have to make it OK to do policing in the community. We have to support our police. We have to make it OK for folks to go out and do our job," New said. "People are walking around on eggshells right now."

Law enforcement officials have said an increasing number of police calls require mental health response and have criticized the Legislature for not properly funding the mental health aspect of the response.

"It's hard to expand our programs if you're living and dying by whether you get a grant," Anderson said. St. Cloud has begun partnering its police officers with mental health professionals for some calls.

Across the state, police ranks are dwindling. More cops are quitting, and fewer people are applying to open jobs. Anderson said he had five officers leave in a four-day period in December after a Hennepin County jury found former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter guilty of manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright.

At the Legislature, there is support in both parties for sign-on and retention bonuses for officers. The legislative session starts on January 31, and both crime and police retention will be major focuses.

"We have to change the narrative that public service -- and in particular, public safety service -- are an honorable and desirable place to go and work," Harrington said.

The problem has also affected the recruitment of minority officers. Minnesota has fewer than 200 Black rank-and-file officers out of 11,000 cops statewide, according to state data.

"We've been losing Black officers, not gaining," said Booker Hodges, an assistant state public safety commissioner.