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Even outside Bloomington, Police Chief Booker Hodges has built a brand off his news conferences, which often come well-stocked with sound bites. "You're going to get an orange jumpsuit," he has been known to say, holding one up to the cameras.

Tough talk on TV has won fans for Hodges, now in the job for a year. But behind the attention-getting public appearances, he is working to shift police practice and culture in Bloomington to prioritize respect —and eventually, trust — between police and the public, and make changes stick by embedding them in department policy.

Amid a deep fracture between police and the community, one felt particularly deeply in the Twin Cities, Hodges, a high-profile Black police chief in Minnesota's fourth-largest city, sees himself as a leader who can help bridge divides.

"I was an activist before I was a cop," said Hodges, who a decade ago was president of the Minneapolis NAACP while also working as a Dakota County sheriff's deputy. "So I understand both sides. But I don't consider it 'both sides.'"

Within weeks of Hodges' swearing-in last spring, Bloomington issued a request for proposals for a contractor to help the Police Department change its hiring, training and evaluation practices. The contract brought in the Center for Values-Based Initiatives, a St. Paul consultancy run by former Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom, who has known Hodges for years.

Hodges has said he wants to build systems that he began to develop as interim chief in Prior Lake to create a respectful and respected police department.

Bostrom said he thinks Hodges's major challenge is to deliver community policing at a deeper level than what most large departments have been able to engage. Many, he said, have leaned on familiar tools: bike rodeos, coffee with a cop events or National Night Out block parties.

"Unfortunately, I don't think those have ever generated a deep amount of mutual trust," Bostrom said. "We don't know how to break through that."

Hodges is trying something more systematic.

The process began with community focus groups. Bostrom said he thought it was critical to ask the community what they wanted from police rather than trying to guess. People said they wanted police to be honest, compassionate, service-oriented and, above all, respectful, Hodges said.

Over the past several months, Hodges said, he has worked to change police hiring, training and evaluation to reflect those priorities. Everything from recruitment materials to community-feedback forms and performance evaluations have undergone changes.

Activists including Emma and Maddie Pederson, who volunteer with Communities United Against Police Brutality, were eager to see how Hodges would make changes — and make them last.

"Chiefs set the tone for the culture," Emma Pederson said. "He has an opportunity to make the [Bloomington Police Department] be a better police department."

Maddie Pederson, who worked as a community service officer in Bloomington but did not become a sworn officer and no longer works in policing, said she hopes to see Hodges address racism within the department. She wants policing to become a more welcoming field for others with activist backgrounds.

Bloomington has long had high expectations of its police, said former Chief Jeff Potts. He helped form a multicultural advisory committee a decade ago whose work is now being built on and formalized.

"Instead of policing the community, the culture has been you police along with the community," Potts said.

Bostrom said Hodges has built on the culture. He gets buy-in from officers by asking their opinions, explaining clearly why he is making changes.

"He's not coming in like a steamroller," Bostrom said. "He has led by example. He listens."

Public persona

The theatrical news conferences have a tendency to overshadow the behind-the-scenes work.

"I once made the mistake of getting between Booker and a TV camera," Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse joked during his state of the city address this year. "I won't make that mistake again."

But Hodges said the attention-grabbing monologues are part of his mission to build trust, not a distraction.

"Communication from this profession has been absolutely abhorrent," he said.

He makes an effort to speak plainly and in a way that will get people's attention, even if it means quoting R. Kelly during a news conference about a prostitution sting.

He uses props, including printed mug shots, orange plastic jumpsuits and an orange Santa hat when he announced arrests on Christmas Eve in the killing of 19-year-old Johntae Hudson.

In cases where there are victims, Hodges said, the show he puts on is for them and their families.

"A lot of times victims don't feel like they get any justice," he said. "They don't feel like they get any voice."

Hodges has said his experience as a survivor of domestic violence shaped his interest in advocating for victims.

Though Hodges is proud that crime overall is at a four-year low in the city, the past year saw several high-profile incidents: three shootings at the Mall of America, including Hudson's killing, and a shooting in a restaurant that killed 49-year-old Tu Anh Pham and wounded a server.

Hodges has attracted attention for the way he reacts to crime in Bloomington during news conferences, but Bostrom said there's a tie to Hodges' emphasis on respect.

"Whoever these criminals are, they disrespected the fabric of the community of Bloomington," Bostrom said. "It's his responsibility to do something about it."

Hiring for change

Hodges said his hiring focus now is on character, not on consciously recruiting more women or people of color, though he said three of the four officers he most recently hired are Black.

He is mindful of a retirement wave about to sweep policing over the next decade, likely including his. Hodges is making an effort to hire cadets, who have decades of work ahead, at the same time he hires more experienced officers.

But as fewer candidates apply to become police officers, Hodges looks to people with strong opinions — both pro- and anti-police — to help recruit.

"What I say to a lot of my activist friends is, 'When are you going to start recruiting the type of police officers you want to see on the street?'" Hodges said.

For people who staunchly 'back the blue': "It's nice that you support us and whatnot, but we need people to apply for these jobs."