New Minneapolis Police chief promises accountability, building back trust

Minneapolis’ new police chief is making good on his promise to build bridges in the community as he lays out his priorities for the job.

"We are here to reduce the number of crime victims and to help people feel safe. And we are here to build trust. So to the extent that officers do that in situations, I will have their back. To the extent that their behavior does not do either of those things, they have a problem. To the extent that there has not been accountability, there definitely will be accountability around those issues," said Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara.

The chief made those comments Wednesday night during a public safety meeting at Malcolm Yards as he also responded to concerns about car break-ins and other property crimes on the city’s east side. 

"What is the next move for the residents? I mean, they can't afford to keep having things broken into and taken from them," asked Britt Howell from the Prospect Park Association. 

Some east side residents expressed they are repeatedly calling the police and not getting an adequate response.

"In terms of individual investigations, if you feel like you're not hearing back, I want to know about that," the chief responded.

O’Hara said his goal is not just to respond to crimes but also to prevent problems from happening. However, he faces two huge obstacles: a lack of trust in Minneapolis' Police and staffing shortages.

The organizers of the forum said they invited O’Hara because they recognize how much public safety has changed in the city since 2020 and the murder of George Floyd.

"I don't think anyone wants to see that happen again, so I'm glad that there's commitment from everyone up here on this table to make sure that doesn't happen again, and we're moving forward in a very different way," said City Council member Robin Wonsley from Minneapolis Ward 2.

The chief emphasized the importance of having policing localized to the neighborhoods and echoed his commitment to building back trust in the police department.

"To the extent that there has not been accountability over serious police misconduct, that time is over," O’Hara said.

The chief said there’s a plan to dedicate money toward recruitment and retention of police officers, but he’s trying to be strategic to make sure recruits reflect the values he wants to prioritize. While the department is limited due to significant staffing shortages, the chief said he doesn’t feel that’s an excuse.

"I will absolutely not allow any of this to be normalized in terms of how responsive we are to the community. I will ensure that the police officers and the supervisors who work here understand what my expectations are," O’Hara said.

Following his comments, city leaders said it's also important to address why they feel the police are having recruitment challenges in the first place.

"Some people won't call the police because they don't trust them. And so what we want to do is continue to work with the chief and with the council and with the mayor's office and with everyone else to ensure that people can begin to trust the Minneapolis Police Department again. I'm not saying they're not trustworthy, but we can't ignore what happened," said Alberder Gillespie, director of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights.