In the more than five months since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has led the department through an uptick in violent crime, including carjackings, robberies, and gun violence in low-income neighborhoods as well as higher-income areas.

The Police Department also is experiencing an increase in officers leaving the agency, resulting in approximately 130 separations so far this year, which is about three times as many as in previous years.

At the same time, there is an ongoing city council debate about whether to make major changes to the Minneapolis Police Department’s budget and responsibilities. However, some council members appear to be backing away from or toning down their earlier rhetoric about “abolishing” the police.

Chief Arradondo spoke with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about these issues and more.

Chuck Wexler: How are you doing these days?

Chief Arradondo: I feel a bit like I’m in the eye of the storm. There’s a lot to keep me focused and moving along. There’s so much going on, including our usual responsibilities like preventing violent crime. But I’m doing well and doing my best to keep us moving forward.

Wexler: What have your last six months been like?

Chief Arradondo: They’ve been filled with grief and, in some spaces, healing has occurred. But for a lot of people in Minneapolis, right now there’s a sense of being stuck. I think part of that has been compounded by the pandemic, and by the uptick in violent crime, like we have not seen in Minneapolis for many years. There have also been different narratives by politicians and others out there in our communities, ranging from abolishing the police to needing more public safety resources.

But time does heal, and I’ve seen an increase in hope in this city. While we certainly are going to have some heavy lifting ahead, I see signs of hope. I’ve seen that in conversations with young activists who have recognized that we’re going to need some form of uniformed, armed men and women to intervene and address crime. They also have acknowledged that we need transformational change. I’ve met with our immigrant community, including business owners who said, “We plan to stay here. We’re not leaving. We want to rebuild and make this a better city than it was before.” That’s a sign of hope.

Even while we’ve seen a large number of our Minneapolis officers make the decision to separate from the department, we still have officers showing up day and night and committed to serving amid everything that’s occurring.

There is hope in the city, and I think that will continue to show itself.

Wexler: Have the calls to defund or abolish police changed over time, particularly in light of the increase in violent crime this summer?

Chief Arradondo: In the moment, it was primarily “abolish,” “dismantle,” or “defund.” I think more voices are speaking up now to talk about what’s necessary. The people in some of our communities, particularly those in parts of the Third and Fourth Precincts that experience more violent crime, raised their voices to say, “We should have the conversation about how we reimagine policing, but at the same time we have to talk about what is necessary today.”  I think that will continue to help move the conversation forward in a way that truly looks at the need for good public safety.

Wexler: What do you think is driving the increase in violent crime?

Chief Arradondo: Smarter people than me will research the impact of everything that’s happened in 2020 on police, communities, and violent crime. You have a pandemic. You have civil unrest in our city and throughout the country. You have continuing group violence. There’s a lack of programming for our juveniles. And there’s some of the discourse from elected officials. It feels like all these negative factors are having an impact together, and it’s difficult to attribute the increase to one thing.

Wexler:  Has this affected your staffing?

Chief Arradondo:  Yes.  Because of an increase in separations from the department, we’ve had to become something I’d hoped we’d never see, which is one-dimensional. Our main focus right now is patrol. If someone in our city picks up the phone and needs a squad car, we want to have one available to respond. And if someone is the victim of a crime, it has to be investigated. We’ve had to discontinue other core pieces of our department operations that we had done so well in the past and were so important to public safety. Sadly, a lot of those have been community engagement roles.

That’s something I wish we did not have to do, but we have lost staffing and I have to focus on the core functions of patrol and investigations.

Wexler: How many officers have left the department?

Chief Arradondo: We typically average 40-45 separations a year, including retirements and disability separations. That number is closer to 130 right now, and we anticipate more before the end of the year. I’m preparing contingency plans for losing more before it gets better.

That has a direct impact on our public safety response and service. We’ve had to triage the calls that we can go to. We’ve been looking at types of calls that other parts of our city government can respond to.

We’ve been fortunate to have specialized investigative units, including homicide, assault, and robbery divisions. But if this continues, we’re going to become generalists. An investigator who normally works on the robbery unit may also be doing assault cases, or other cases they may not normally do.

Wexler: How do you keep people motivated under these circumstances?

Chief Arradondo: I think it’s important to realize that you can’t do it on your own. It’s so important to seek out and identify influential leaders, regardless of rank, throughout the organization. They can help provide some of that support, and morale is obviously a part of that.

You have to do the best you can to provide support and check in on the wellness of your folks.

We must be seen in our communities in these challenging times, even when some of the voices in the community may be expressing stark criticism and even condemnation of the police. We still have to be seen. We have to remember that there are victims out there and be there for them.

We’re one critical piece of the public safety ecosystem, and we have to make sure we’re continuing partnerships with our judges, prosecutors, social workers, block club leaders, and everyone else in that ecosystem. Because it’s going to take all of us to get through this time and learn from it.

Wexler: Do you feel better about where the department is today than you did at the end of May?

Chief Arradondo: To compare it to a medical condition, I describe MPD as being in grave condition the week of May 25.  Today I would say we’re in critical but stable condition. But that stability can go at any moment. That’s why it’s imperative that our entire department do our best every day to establish trust and build relationships. And also take counsel from a variety of stakeholders, particularly those who have challenged us, to help create this new MPD.

Wexler: Are we in an environment where an incident involving one officer can tarnish an entire department?

Chief Arradondo: I’ve had to retell our story to organizations and individuals who were very supportive six months ago and knew of the great work our men and women have been doing. These incidents create a sort of amnesia with some stakeholders. I’ve had to start from scratch with people who six months ago were some of our staunchest advocates.

Wexler: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chief Arradondo: I’m proud of my fellow chiefs across the country who I know are experiencing challenges we’ve never experienced in our lifetime. There’s no one playbook for how to move an individual agency forward. But I think our leaders have managed and navigated through some very difficult waters. They’re doing great work, and I think we can all continue to learn from each other


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.