Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced Tuesday that Deputy Police Chief Amelia Huffman will become the department's interim chief, replacing Medaria Arradondo, who said Monday he was retiring after three decades of public service.
With the interim job, Huffman becomes the second woman to lead the department, after Janeé Harteau, who led MPD from 2012 to 2017. She inherits a department still trying to reform after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer. The May 2020 episode set off worldwide protests and reignited debate about what policing should be in the United States.
"She's the right leader to move towards rebuilding our department and making sure that every single person in every single neighborhood feels safe," Frey said in introducing Huffman at a City Hall news conference. The 27-year department veteran "commands an encyclopedic knowledge of how safety should function and of the internal workings of the Police Department," the mayor said.
Rumors of Arradondo's likely departure have swirled for months. Huffman was among several names, both inside and outside the department, which were bandied around as potential replacements. Frey, who tried to persuade Arradondo to stay, noted that the soon-to-be former chief had endorsed Huffman, who will officially assume her new post next month. Frey said that even before then the city would move forward with a national search for the city's next chief, without offering many specifics.
Huffman said she is interested in taking the job in the longer term, after her interim appointment ends. "I hope to have further discussions with the mayor about that as time progresses."
The mayor doesn't need the council's approval to designate Huffman as the interim chief, according to the City Attorney's Office. Under the new charter language approved by voters, the permanent replacement will require the council's consent.
Following the announcement Tuesday, Arradondo said that his replacement "cares deeply about the people we serve and the men and women of this department."
"She is a true leader who will work tirelessly to keep our residents safe, strive to make the MPD one of the best agencies in the country and she is an intelligent, thoughtful, visionary leader," he said in a text message.
Arradondo's retirement comes just over a month after a contentious election dominated by the issue of public safety. Even before news of his departure broke, some at City Hall and the community were pushing for Frey to hire a reformer from the outside to shake things up, something the MPD has only done three times in the past four decades.
Huffman takes over a force that is down hundreds of officers amid sinking morale and the worst violent crime surge in a generation. She will also be tasked with bridging the trust gap between law enforcement and certain communities, particularly those of color, which has been widened by the death of Floyd and others killed by police in recent years. At the same time, the department is staring down simultaneous state and federal investigations into its practices that could bring sweeping changes.
A U.S. Department of Justice probe is investigating whether MPD officers engaged in a "pattern and practice" of violating citizens' rights, including during mental health-related calls and at last summer's protests over the murder of Floyd, and could lead to court-ordered reforms. A separate investigation is being carried out by state officials.
Huffman said that she would work to fill the department's depleted ranks, and improve training for both officers and supervisors. She said she also intended to work to mend community relations, although she did not mention Floyd by name or otherwise reference his death.
"Some of you are likely planning to ask me why I want this job in the face of all the challenges," Huffman said. "I can't tell you what a tremendous place I believe Minneapolis is. What we have to offer in terms of quality of life is fantastic and I would change it for no place."
Frey said that among other things, Huffman had been instrumental in an effort to overhaul the department's field training program, which critics have long blamed for entrenching a culture of aggressive policing that stretches back decades.
Huffman first joined the department in 1994, and worked in several units, including financial crimes and internal affairs, before being promoted to the lieutenant in charge of the homicide division. Her career stalled under Harteau, who removed her from her homicide command and demoted her to a position in licensing.
Under Arradondo, she began rising again. She was quickly promoted after he became chief, eventually taking over as inspector of the Fifth Precinct, before being promoted to deputy chief of professional standards, which oversees the internal affairs and training units.
Most recently, she served as deputy chief in charge of the professional standards bureau, which oversees the internal affairs, training and technology units.
Her disciplinary history reveals two complaints from 2013, both of which were closed without discipline, according to a database maintained by Citizens United Against Police Brutality, an advocacy group.
Abigail Cerra, a former public defender who now chairs the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, said Huffman faces a tall order of trying to change the department's culture of discipline and accountability. For too long, Cerra said, MPD leaders have chosen to hide, rather than rein in, excessive force against civilians, which she argued sends a message to other officers that such conduct will be tolerated.
Cerra said she's never met Huffman, but that she hoped the new administration would "lean more into working with reform groups like the PCOC," as well as Frey's recently formed work group on improving public safety. At the same time, she said she hoped the next chief would be willing to work with community members and other agencies.
"There's a culture today of us versus them, or police versus everybody, including other elements of public safety; I think we'd be well served with a more holistic model of police leadership," Cerra said.
Jae Yates, an organizer for the police reform group Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice for Jamar, said that the group has little faith that a change at the top will somehow transform the MPD.
"I don't hold out much hope that any police chief is going to actually advance causes of addressing police violence," said Yates, adding that the group has been working on a ballot initiative that would create a civilian oversight panel with final say on hiring and firing decisions. The proposal is modeled on a similar effort in Chicago. "Because we're always going to be in opposition, who the police chief is is kind of immaterial."
Arradondo's retirement announcement came later than expected: He had been privately telling his senior commanders that he planned to make his decision by the end of the month. For weeks leading up to the election, he dodged questions about his plans.
Frey hitched himself to the popular Arradondo during his re-election bid, and opponents of a proposal to replace the city's Police Department highlighted Arradondo's criticism of the measure. Activists who supported the charter amendment lamented the focus on the chief, saying they suspected he was on the way out.
Arradondo said that he will step down in mid-January. The timing means that both of Minnesota's largest cities will lose their police chiefs within the same year. St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell announced that he would not seek reappointment when his term ends in June.
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.