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Booker Hodges, an assistant commissioner in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, will be the next Bloomington police chief, becoming the first person of color to lead the department.

"I'm not normally at a loss for words, but this is still sinking in," Hodges said in an interview Thursday.

Hodges, 44, of Eagan, will move into his new job April 4 after leaving the Public Safety Department, where he has served as assistant commissioner for three years. He will be paid an annual salary of $170,000.

Hodges was named a finalist for the job last week along with Brooklyn Park Deputy Chief Mark Bruley. Although the city conducted a national search for its next chief, City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said the top candidates wound up being local.

Hodges will succeed interim Police Chief Mike Hartley, who will retire at the end of March. Hartley took over after former chief Jeff Potts left in 2020 to become executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

Hodges said his experience as assistant commissioner during the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest of the past two years gave him "a front row and inside seat to every major problem we have faced" in law enforcement.

"When people look to how law enforcement should be done, they're going to look to the Bloomington Police Department," he said. "Because quite frankly right now, people look at Minnesota as the worst law enforcement state in the country. I want us to change that."

Hodges said he views his new job as long-term and the place where he will retire.

"We're going to build a department that is reflective of not only the community we serve today, but reflective of the community that we're going to serve 25 years from now," he said.

Hodges, who grew up in north Minneapolis, received a doctorate in public administration from Hamline University in 2015. His law enforcement experience includes nearly 10 years with the Dakota County Sheriff's Office and more than two years with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, where he served as acting chief deputy. He also served as president of the Minneapolis NAACP for five years.

"I am excited for our community and our organization to get to know Dr. Hodges," Verbrugge said in a statement. "His vision for a values-based organization that prioritizes community engagement and reflects our community will make our department and our organization better."

In a statement, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said he was "incredibly proud" of Hodges and called him "the ideal candidate to serve the citizens of Bloomington."

"Policing has never been more challenging and he is ready and prepared to lead the Bloomington Police Department," Harrington said. "I have watched Booker continue his growth into leadership as he took command during the COVID pandemic and civil unrest. I've seen his work on making the Department of Public Safety an agency that is more responsive to and reflective of the state we serve by applying community policing practices.

Before becoming assistant commissioner, Hodges was Prior Lake's first Black police officer and served as interim chief. And while he may be Bloomington's first Black chief, Hodges said his career and body of work are what matters most to the department.

"'I'll put my resume and my credentials and what I've done up against anybody," he said.

Even so, he's aware that his appointment as chief marks some firsts for Bloomington.

"I'm pretty sure I'd be the first chief that has a doctorate degree. ... I'd be the first chief that was president of a local branch of the NAACP. ... I might be the first chief that was a Minneapolis All-Conference hockey player from north Minneapolis," he said with a laugh.