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On the wall of his office, Golden Valley Police Chief Virgil Green has a whiteboard that he calls his "draft board." From his desk, he can see the names of the city's 15 sworn officers, progress in the slog to remake the small suburban department.

Rebuilding from a low of eight officers early this year back to the 31 officers that the city has budgeted has been a challenge, made all the more difficult by local politics, anxiety about crime and national questions about what role a police department should have in a community. If Green had known what awaited him in Golden Valley, he said, he might have hesitated to accept the job.

"I had no idea, even coming in ... what I was walking into," Green said, "and what was about to change over the next year."

Since he was sworn in last September, Green has been grappling with an officer exodus that left the department less than a third staffed, in large part due to an external investigation that condemned department culture as racist. The investigation, which preceded Green's tenure, forced the west metro suburb of about 20,000 and its police chief into the national reckoning over how police treat Black people.

These questions are just as relevant in a suburb like Golden Valley, which is almost 90% white, said Green, the city's first Black chief. Neighboring communities, including north Minneapolis, are much more diverse.

"People shouldn't feel afraid to drive through Golden Valley," Green said.

Green's task has been crafting policy updates and training aimed at improving police relations with the communities they serve, especially communities of color, while at the same time recruiting aggressively to fill the department — and assure residents that someone will rush to help when they call 911.

Serious crime in Golden Valley, along with many other Twin Cities suburbs, is rare. Crime did not spike during the pandemic, or last winter when police ranks were at their thinnest.

Anxiety about crime did spike, though — most notably earlier this year, when rumors about a bank robbery that never actually happened blew up on social media. And this summer, the city has seen a few carjackings, thefts of luxury cars from a dealership and a home invasion during which thieves made off with purebred puppies.

Green has been out in the community, listening to residents' concerns.

After an 80-year-old woman was hurt in an attempted carjacking, Green went to her neighborhood to listen to neighbors and discuss the Police Department's response. He has visited a few other blocks this summer to have similar conversations.

Green thinks meeting face to face can help residents feel more comfortable with him and his leadership, he said, even though many are still attached to the idea of the "old" department.

Gillian Rosenquist, a City Council member who is running for mayor, said she has noticed Green's presence in neighborhoods and with community groups.

"I've really appreciated Chief Green's commitment to engaging with community members," she said. "If there's been an issue or concern in a neighborhood, he's tried to be available to folks."

Having 19 sworn officers, as Green hopes the department will next month, would bring Golden Valley back to where it was in spring 2022, when Mayor Shep Harris called for an investigation into racism in the department — and the steady stream of officers out of the department became a torrent.

Harris said he thinks Green has done a "spectacular" job, given the challenging situation he walked into. Green has made real progress in remaking the department's policies and culture, Harris said, while also recruiting and managing a partnership with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. Harris, who is not seeking re-election, said he hopes the next mayor will not merely support Green.

"It's one thing to support the initiatives. It's another to lead in partnerships on these initiatives with the chief," Harris said. "It's a nuance, but people will notice it."

Jim Mortenson, director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, the union that represents Golden Valley officers, said last year he thought Golden Valley officers were leaving because of the way the city was rolling out reforms.

"This has to do with leadership and the direction they are taking that department," Mortenson told the Star Tribune in 2022.

He did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Roslyn Harmon, co-chair of the Police Employment, Accountability and Community Engagement Commission and a mayoral candidate, said she saw a breakdown in communication between police and city leaders last year.

Reform had to happen, Harmon said. But the way it happened in Golden Valley left a lot of people with bad feelings. Some of the reform efforts were pushed too fast, she said, which led to backlash and, ultimately, a wave of resignations.

"All of it, from my lens, one, was just not effective communication," she said. "Next thing you know we have an investigation taking place, and now we have a mess on our hands."

Not all the officers who left were problems, Harmon said. She does not believe one small department could have had two dozen bad apples.

Green still wonders about the officers who left.

"Did people in the department not want to see a Black male police chief? I ask myself that question," he said.

Some in the community also saw Green as an avatar for the reform agenda, and attached their skepticism to him. Doubts about his leadership bubbled up in online comments — and in real life.

Early in his tenure, Green said a woman told him he only got the job because the City Council wanted a "colored" chief. More recently, Scott Nadeau, who preceded Green as an interim chief, alleged in a lawsuit against the city that he was "replaced by a Black male for the express purpose of increasing racial diversity."

Green is no stranger to prejudice in the workplace and sharp-elbowed city politics. In his career, he has twice been forced out as police chief, after he raised concerns about city leaders — concerns that led to criminal charges for council members in both cases.

He said he leans on his faith to deal with criticism and tries to shake off the barbs.

"You have to suck it up and keep moving," he said. "If I give up, I'm letting some other people down who want to see me be successful."

In Golden Valley, more troubling than people who decided they did not like him, Green said, was a pattern of former police officers warning others against joining the department.

Green said some prospective hires told him they had been warned about Golden Valley. A few changed their opinion, he said, and now make up the department's ranks.

Rosenquist said she thinks the department can both staff up and work toward reforms aimed at strengthening engagement between police and the broader community.

"It's important to do two things simultaneously," she said.

Green said having the right officers in the department will help. To that end, he said, he has been working with his assistant chiefs to reach out to groups like Latino and Somali officers' associations. The city's expanded community service officer program is helping to fill a pipeline of possible future Golden Valley officers.

This year, Golden Valley expanded the role of the unarmed CSOs from answering phones to responding to non-emergency calls like parking complaints and theft reports. Green hopes that work will keep the CSOs more engaged and help them get to know the city.

Looking back to his "draft board," Green pointed to two names on a list of CSOs he hopes will become sworn officers by early 2024.

For now, despite the challenges, he plans to be there to see those transitions through.

"It's not the type of career that I had planned for myself," Green said. "I can finally say I'm with a city where I don't have any concerns about how long I will be here."