Barnette, nominee for Minneapolis Community Safety commissioner, shares vision

One-on-one with Chief Judge Todd Barnette

One-on-one with Chief Judge Todd Barnette

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s nominee for the commissioner of Community Safety is expected to be discussed at the City Council’s Committee of the Whole on Oct. 17, before it heads to the full Council.

Frey selected Hennepin County Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette in September following the departure of Cedric Alexander, who was in the position for a year.

Barnette is experienced in managing the state’s largest county court operations, including 63 judges and about 550 employees. During the summer and early fall, he participated in a series of panels with different leaders from Hennepin County discussing how to address a rise in youth crime.

He spoke one-on-one with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Friday.

Barnette said he approached the city about the position after encouragement from a friend.

“The process started about thinking about it, looking at the job and seeing what was going on,” Barnette said. “Eventually, the job was posted and I applied for it, and I’m now here as the nominee.”

While he didn’t expect to pursue this position, it marks a full-circle moment for the judge. After he graduated from George Washington University, he said he initially planned to pursue a master’s degree in administration of justice at Southern Illinois University.

“That summer, I ended up at an event talking to some lawyers, and they were very persuasive that law school was a better route for me, so I changed my mind, stayed out of school for a year and came to the University of Minnesota,” Burnette explained.

He spent many years in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s office before moving to the County Attorney’s Office. Barnette has been a judge since 2006 and stepped into the role of chief judge in Hennepin County in 2020.

“My work in those areas and the approach that I’ve taken with having partnerships with our justice partners and collaboration with the county and with the state, I think will be important,” said Barnette, who will oversee five departments in the Office of Community Safety if confirmed. “We’re going to need other departments to help us. We’re going to need the county’s partnership and collaboration. We’re going to need the state.”

Barnette told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he’s been meeting with the 911, emergency management, police, violence prevention and fire department heads as he works to understand the pressing public safety issues facing the city.

“Nationally, staffing for police, 911 and fire is crucial. We know that, and so that has to be a priority,” Barnette said. “We know that there is a settlement agreement that we have with the State Human Rights Department. We know that there will be a [federal] consent decree that comes. There will be deadlines that we have to comply with so there will be priorities there already that I’ll have to address.”

RELATED: Minneapolis Police will be under court supervision for years. DOJ may be watching for a decade.

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara restructured the department recently by splitting MPD into two divisions; one addresses patrol and investigations, while the other handles internal affairs, constitutional policing and professional standards.

Cmdr. Yolanda Wilks has also been tasked with leading MPD’s implementation unit overseeing the court mandated reforms.

“When it’s appropriate for me to be involved, I’m going to be involved,” Barnette said about his role in implementing the court-ordered changes. “If I’m confirmed, it’s important for me to not step in anyone’s way, right? And I might have a lot of questions but to let people do their jobs. That’s what they’re there for, right? And where I’m supposed to do my job, I’m going to step in and do it.”

Minneapolis Community Safety commissioner nominee shares plans for reforming MPD

Minneapolis Community Safety commissioner nominee shares plans for reforming MPD

Barnette told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he’s not sure yet whether he, Wilks or O’Hara will be the primary person to communicate with the independent evaluator selected to hold MPD accountable under the court order. He said he also has not yet seen the applications of the six local and national groups and law firms that have applied to be the independent evaluator.

The deadline to select an independent evaluator was recently pushed back from November until March.

According to the court enforceable settlement agreement with the state, the independent evaluator will provide a “comprehensive termination evaluation” after four years, which will determine whether the agreement ends or continues.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Barnette how he will ensure the changes happen in a timely manner.

“If I’m confirmed, I have to get into this role, know what our capacity is,” Barnette said. “We have to be able to comply with the settlement agreement. We have to be able to comply with the [anticipated] consent decree. If we have the capacity, we will meet the deadlines.”

He also feels his legal background will be beneficial in following through with the orders.

“I think I can be helpful, especially when it comes to the community,” he said. “When I’m out in the community and they have questions, I’m probably better able to give them the plain language of what it means. When there are staff that have questions or a law enforcement officer or someone else, I think I would be in a position to say, ‘This is what it says, this is practically what it means.’”

Barnette attended the first community engagement session required under the state court order, which focused on use of force.

“What you hear is a lot of frustration,” he said. “You hear folks who have been harmed, and if we can repair some of that harm and get them to trust, I think that’ll go a long way. For me, that’s really important.”

RELATED: Minneapolis losing police officers faster than they can hire, chief calls it ‘unsustainable’

He said he’s also been speaking with Chief O’Hara about recruitment efforts. According to a spokesperson, there are currently 578 sworn officers within MPD, which is substantially fewer than the authorized strength of 888 officers.

When asked, Barnette confirmed recruitment and outreach could look like community meetings, job fairs, and school visits in the future.

“Police are at the end of the road, neighborhood safety is at the top of the road with crime prevention, and what we’re trying to do is to prevent people from having that interaction with the police,” said Barnette. “So all of those things I think are important. I’m definitely going to be out in the community. That’s just who I am so people will see me.”