One-on-one interview with Office of Community Safety commissioner nominee

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Mayor Jacob Frey announced his nominee for the commissioner of the new Office of Community Safety on Thursday. Dr. Cedric Alexander said he wants to see accountability within the five areas he will oversee, if he is confirmed by the City Council.

The Office of Community Safety will include the fire and police departments, the Office of Emergency Management, the Office of Violence Prevention and 911.

“Everyone that heads those departments are going to be fully, fully responsible for actions that goes on inside their respective areas of responsibility,” said Dr. Alexander. “Everyone is going to be held accountable, not just those at the bottom but those at the top of the organization as well.”

The city is grappling with a Minnesota Department of Human Rights report, which was released this spring. The investigation found probable cause the city and MPD engaged in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination over the course of a decade.

According to the report, accountability and oversight systems were “insufficient and ineffective”.

“I read the report two times and it is a scathing report, it is a very concerning report,” said Dr. Alexander. “We have to look at it — what are some low hanging fruits we can get to and fix today? Not tomorrow, but today. What are some of the things that may require a little bit more time and planning and thoughtfulness that needs to be addressed around the issues that have been brought out as a result of this report? We have to look at that report as a way of opportunity to get better.”

He added, “It goes beyond just writing another policy. We have to do more than just that, we really have to have some really transformational changes in terms of how we do business.”

The Dept. of Human Rights is seeking to ensure changes through a consent decree. A federal Department of Justice pattern or practice investigation is also underway.

“Whether we have a consent decree or not, we still have a responsibility in achieving some of these reforms, recommendations that are being made to us,” said Dr. Alexander.  “If it comes to a consent decree, the mayor welcomes it, I welcome it and we will do everything we need to do to meet those recommendations.”

If the City Council approves Alexander’s nomination, he will also have to address the staffing shortage facing MPD. The Department currently has 564 active officers, which is significantly lower than the 731 officers required by a Minnesota Supreme Court order.

“If we look at what’s happening nationally across this country, it’s going to be a huge lift — not only this city but any other city across the country, the numbers just aren’t there,” he said. “I’m going to go inside the Police Department and I want an overview from the Chief and her command staff on what has been done to recruit and what is going to be done in the future that’s going to be different. What are the resources you need? We’re going to have to be far more creative, we’re going to have to be far more assertive and we got to be able to demonstrate that we have some opportunities here to recruit even in this very challenging environment that we’re in. […] We’re going to have to come up with new ideas but it can’t be what we’ve always done because it isn’t working.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Dr. Alexander whether he wants to see the next chief of police promoted from within the department or hired from the outside.

“What I want to see is a process that takes place where there is opportunism for those inside the police department to apply if they choose to opportunities for those on the outside to apply if they want to,” he said. “Through that process, there’s going to be names that are going to be delivered in the end, a shortlist. And in that shortlist a determination will be made who is the best person for the job. It could be an insider, could be an outsider, we don’t know. For someone like myself, I’ve been inside and I’ve been outside — what everyone deserves from the inside and the outside is a fair opportunity to apply and be competitive at a national level.”

The City Council is expected to receive the Mayor’s nomination at its July 21 meeting.