Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo spoke with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about staffing levels in the Police Department, violent crime challenges, officer wellness, and preparations for the upcoming trial of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, which begins March 8.

Chuck Wexler: How does your staffing level compare to this time last year?

Chief Arradondo: We have seen an absolutely historic drop in our personnel numbers. From January 1, 2020 until today, we are down at least 200 active sworn officers. So there are 200 fewer men and women able to respond to our community members’ calls for service. That is significant, considering that I don’t believe we were at the staffing levels we should have been prior to January 1, 2020.

At our highest levels, we were at about 920 sworn officers. We are into the low 600s now.

Wexler: When is the last time your staffing numbers were that low?

Chief Arradondo: I haven’t seen any records of the department being that low, even going back to the 1970s.

Wexler: What violent crime issues are you facing?

Chief Arradondo: Last year, we experienced violent crime at levels we haven’t seen since the 1990s. Our homicides did not surpass our numbers in the early ‘90s, but we had 570 victims of gunshot violence, which was a number we had not seen before. We had an over 320% increase in carjackings last year, and unfortunately that number hasn’t subsided as we’ve gone into 2021. We saw an increase in violent crime across the board, including robberies, assaults, carjackings, and shootings.

Wexler: Have the calls to “defund” the Minneapolis Police Department diminished?

Chief Arradondo: Yes. Last year, with the death of Mr. Floyd and the civil unrest, the idea to abolish, dismantle, or defund the Minneapolis Police Department received a lot of attention.

Over the last several months, however, we’ve seen more of a groundswell of neighbors, business owners, faith leaders, and others speaking up. They’re saying that they want and expect to see transformational change in the Minneapolis Police Department. But at the same time, they recognize that they need a police department. They want to work with us to develop that relationship and build trust. Those voices are speaking up.

Like many other cities around the country, we haven’t held in-person town halls, community meetings, or city council meetings during the pandemic. Now we’re seeing our community using various technologies – Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – to say that we need a “both/and” approach. We need to work on transformational change as a police department, and at the same time, we need to make sure we have an adequately staffed and funded police department to help us with the public safety and violent crime issues we’re experiencing.

Over the past year, the communities that have had greater challenges with violent crime have spoken up the loudest. They’ve said, “Before you start engaging in conversations about defunding the police department, you need to listen to us. We need to not only be at the table, but also drive some of those conversations and build a pathway forward.”

In Minneapolis and other jurisdictions across the country, I think there were very valid cries for reform last year. But a lot of that was tied to emotional responses. Over time, I think more people are coming to the table wanting to remove some of the emotion and delve in to what is occurring out there. Let’s look at the data and facts. And let’s recognize that we have individuals in the police department and the community who want to achieve transformational change and make sure our police department works for and supports our communities, but police departments have to be supported and funded appropriately.

Wexler: And you’re receiving funding for hiring, correct?

Chief Arradondo: I was granted approval to hire three classes this year, and I appreciate Mayor Frey’s support for that. While we are very fortunate to be able to do that, it is going to take us years to get back to our pre-2020 numbers. The first class started last Monday.

Wexler: How are you preparing for the trial of Derek Chauvin?

Chief Arradondo: Late last summer, we knew that they were anticipating a Spring 2021 trial date. So we’ve been fortunate to have had months to plan for this.

During the civil unrest last summer, when we were reacting to a level of unrest we hadn’t experienced in the history of this city, we went to a unified command system, utilizing local, state, county, and National Guard assets. Over the last eight months, we’ve been planning with all those same partners. Governor Tim Walz has been critical in ensuring we have those state assets we need to prevent the types of destructive behavior, property damage, arson, and looting we saw last year.

We’ve also had time to do a layered approach to community outreach and communication. Over the last couple months, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with our faith communities. Rabbi Marsha Zimmerman hosts an interfaith group with many of our faith leaders, including imams, priests, and reverends. We’ve briefed them on the trial preparation plans, so that they’re aware and can go back to their congregations and share that information.

I’ve reached out to our business leaders to inform them what they can expect, and what types of preventative security measures we’ll be taking.

I’ve had ongoing conversations with our young people. When the marchers and demonstrators took to the street, the overwhelming majority were people under the age of 25. I’ve had conversations with them.

Pretrial, during the trial, and after the trial, we will have wellness teams in all of our precincts to help our officers with mindfulness and resiliency. We have to recognize that for some, this may reignite some trauma. The officer wellness programs will be important, and we did not have the ability to do that last year.

At the same time, we’re going to work with our city enterprise partners to make sure there are community healers out there. Social workers are going to have peace sessions at gathering places. Some of our local African-American churches are going to host a space for community members to gather and offer support.

So we’re fortunate that we have time to communicate with our communities, bring them together, and listen to any concerns they have. And we’re looking at the holistic health of our men and women in uniform and our community members.

We don’t know what the verdict will be, but we know it will impact our community. And it won’t only impact Minneapolis, but also other places across the country. So we’re preparing for the pretrial period, during the trial, and after the trial. We won’t shut down these support mechanisms after the verdict is reached. This is part of our ongoing effort to build relationships with our community.

Wexler: Why is wellness such a central focus of your preparations?

Chief Arradondo: A large number of our men and women made the decision, for their own wellness, to separate from the police department. Many left on disability leave.

We know we have to support the men and women who have decided to stay. We need to make sure their wellness is a priority. And we know that anniversary dates can trigger trauma, and May 25th will be the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death. That will impact the organization and the community.

Unfortunately, for a long time wellness programs have been stigmatized in this profession. We have not done a good job of talking about it and reminding folks that if they do struggle or have wellness challenges, it doesn’t mean that they’re weak. It just means that we have to really lean in as leaders and provide them with the support and tools they need to get through it.

Wexler: You have an amazing attitude. How do you stay so resilient?

Chief Arradondo: Thank you for saying that. I come from a family of nine siblings, and we shared a one-bathroom house in South Minneapolis. I think I take some of that resiliency from growing up in a close family.  And my dear mother has always had a positive attitude. I think a lot of that is a product of what I learned from my Mom.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.