See more of the story

Assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman is the leading candidate to fill a proposed new position within the City Attorney's Office tasked with implementing sweeping police reforms mandated by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and an anticipated federal consent decree in response to George Floyd's murder.

If appointed over concerns from some City Council members, Huffman would assume a full-time civilian role that would formally remove her from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) after 28 years on the force, but allow her to help draft critical policy changes expected to shape the future of policing in Minneapolis for decades to come.

"She is uniquely qualified since she has that deep knowledge of both actual MPD policy and practice," City Attorney Kristyn Anderson told council members, "and also the [Department of Human Rights] settlement agreement, since she was at the table during negotiations."

As policy reform & implementation senior advisor — billed as the "pre-eminent subject matter expert on police reform" — Huffman would continue working on preparations for pending legal agreements with the state and U.S. Justice Department, as she has for the last several months while embedded in Anderson's office.

Several City Council members have been openly critical of Huffman. A briefing Wednesday of the City Council's Policy & Government Oversight Committee devolved into an acrimonious referendum on the former interim chief of police's record.

Council Member Robin Wonsley accused Huffman of being complicit in the department's long history of race-based policing outlined in the report from the state Human Rights Department and argued that appointing her to such a role would hinder the city's ability to restore public trust.

"There's a lot of baggage coming forward with this candidate," she told Anderson, referencing Huffman's handling of the botched no-knock raid that killed 22-year-old Amir Locke and her decision to promote a once-fired police officer to lead MPD's training unit — high-profile controversies that marred her 10-month tenure as Minneapolis' top cop last year following Medaria Arradondo's retirement.

"I'd like you to think very deeply about the implications of hiring a person who could harm the credibility of this crucial process and whether the cost of that is worth it," Wonsley said..

She later acknowledged that the position is necessary, but she questioned why it couldn't be filled by an attorney or another qualified candidate found in a national search.

"In my professional judgment, I really need somebody who has experience in law enforcement, and there are not a lot of attorneys out there who have that kind of practical experience," Anderson countered, reiterating her confidence in Huffman's credentials.

In a statement to the Star Tribune on Friday, Huffman stressed her nearly three decades of experience among several assignments through the ranks, saying it's brought "deep knowledge of our systems and experience implementing change."

"I look forward to working with the dedicated team in the City Attorney's office and MPD who share the desire, not only for compliance with the Agreement, but for policing that meets the needs of our city and a department that supports officers and professional staff in growing a healthy, meaningful career," Huffman wrote.

A senior adviser would collaborate alongside three attorneys and a project manager responsible for handling the legal work of implementation and report directly to Anderson, who serves as the ultimate decisionmaker. That position is key to keeping her office on track, Anderson said, so they can meet a myriad of tight deadlines required by the settlement agreement.

Anderson noted that the council needs to approve the creation of the position but does not get to dictate who is appointed.

Council Member Jason Chavez echoed Wonsley's comments, saying he couldn't support Huffman's appointment because it would "taint this entire process." He hinted that an outside hire might be a safer choice.

Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw lodged an ardent defense of Huffman, praising her extensive knowledge of the Human Rights Department agreement and the work she did to prepare city leaders for such an unprecedented legal settlement. In March, as council members weighed whether to approve the 144-page document, Huffman spent six hours going over the agreement in detail with council members and attorneys during a closed-door session.

"I know how passionate she is about reform. We all make mistakes," Vetaw said, lauding Anderson for her selection. "She's brilliant. She knows her stuff. She knows that department."

Huffman first joined the MPD in November 1994 and worked in several units, including financial crimes, family violence and internal affairs, before being promoted to lieutenant in charge of the homicide division. She rose quickly under Arradondo, who appointed her inspector of the Fifth Precinct, then deputy chief of professional standards to oversee the internal affairs and training units.

Huffman's personnel file, obtained through a data practices request, includes dozens of letters commending her professionalism and intellect, including one 2006 note from a then-assistant Hennepin County Attorney praising Huffman's acumen as an expert witness during a difficult child-abuse trial.

Her disciplinary history reveals two complaints from 2013, both of which were closed without action, according to a database maintained by Communities United Against Police Brutality.

When Arradondo stepped down in late 2021, Mayor Jacob Frey tapped Huffman to become the second woman to ever lead the agency. She inherited an embattled department that was down hundreds of officers and contending with sinking morale and the worst violent crime surge in a generation.

Just two weeks into the job, a Minneapolis SWAT team executing a no-knock warrant in a downtown apartment shot and killed Locke, who lay under a blanket on the couch clutching a handgun. He was not the subject of the search warrant nor a suspect in the associated murder investigation.

Huffman's handling of that case was later cited as a key reason she was not named as a finalist for the permanent chief job, and for the first time in nearly two decades the search committee chose to hire an outsider.

But longtime supporters argue her tenure should be judged by the behind-the-scenes work she did to enact meaningful policy reforms, including updating MPD's Discipline Matrix and overhauling the department's field training officer program. In her statement, Huffman also said she and her team spent last year prioritizing efforts to implement the settlement agreement, including bringing stronger de-escalation training to the department and greater oversight of use of force, among other initiatives.

"I'm proud of the work I have done during my tenure with the MPD, particularly recent work to improve our systems and invest in our people," she said.

On Wednesday, Committee Chair Jeremiah Ellison thanked the city attorney for being transparent in naming her preferred candidate but said he agreed with his colleague's concerns about Huffman. He moved to delay voting on the issue ahead of a briefing before the full council on a series of proposed personnel actions.

Vetaw accused him of attempting to stall. "It feels very political," she said.

Ellison balked at the allegation, chastising her for making assumptions about his motive "in bad faith."

The committee ultimately voted 4-1 to delay its decision until its June 12 meeting. Vetaw cast the lone dissenting ballot. Council Member Emily Koski later told the Star Tribune that she supported waiting to approve the new position but had "no reservations about putting Amelia in that role."

In an interview, Frey expressed disappointment in "unwarranted" criticism of Huffman rather than a debate about a critical new job.

"This work is about our capacity to advance the reform everyone purports to want," he said, adding that Huffman knows where the department has historically fallen short. "There's nobody who understands this as well as she does."