After demoting his last Fourth Precinct inspector over what many saw as a racist Christmas tree prank, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo promised to seek community input before putting someone else in that role.
North Siders will soon have their chance.
Department officials are asking the public to voice their expectations for the job and to help answer the question of who should replace departed Inspector Aaron Biard at a Feb. 21 community forum at Minneapolis Public Schools' Davis Center, at 1250 W. Broadway Av. The event starts at 6 p.m.
Whomever Arradondo picks will be stepping into one of the toughest jobs in the department: leader of a precinct where police-community relations are at their rawest level and crime is routine. At the same time, he or she will have to motivate street cops who in the past felt abandoned by the department's leaders. Racial tensions also remain high. A recent report found persistent racial disparities in area traffic stops, leading to calls for a temporary moratorium on all stops for equipment violations.
Biard was stripped of his command last December after two officers decorated the station's Christmas tree with a pack of menthol cigarettes, police tape, a bag of Takis and other racially offensive items. He was demoted to his civil service rank of lieutenant and transferred to the traffic unit, where he commands five investigators.
Since then, the job has been turned over to former North Side inspector turned Assistant Chief Mike Kjos, who's been splitting his time between the precinct and running the department's day-to day operations.
Department officials at the time described the episode as a prank gone wrong. The two officers involved, Mark Bohnsack and Brandy Steberg, were placed on home assignment while an internal affairs investigation continues.
After a photo of the tree surfaced on social media, prompting widespread outrage, Mayor Jacob Frey pledged to fire the officers by the end of the day. He later walked back those remarks, saying the city needed to follow proper procedure for terminating any officer.
If fired, the officers can appeal to get their jobs back through arbitration.
At the time, Arradondo said that he was "ashamed and appalled" at the officers' actions and made clear that he planned to take his time on his decision. More than three months later, the position remains unfilled.
Biard's removal continued a revolving door of leadership in the precinct, which has seen five of its past six police commanders either demoted or transferred amid controversy.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany