Golden Valley mayor statement regarding police chief search

I have a statement to make as I believe that our community deserves to know what is currently happening regarding our police chief search. 

As some may have seen yesterday, a statement was made regarding the police chief search process. The city manager and deputy city manager will interview two of the three finalist candidates again – Scott Nadeau and Virgil Green – next Monday, March 7. From there, I believe we need to return to the final panel and allow the panel to make the final decision, or leave it up to the people who have been elected to represent the community, the City Council. 

“We are a city that believes in and stands for the values of social equity, inclusion and justice. We embrace diversity and recognize the rights of individuals to live their lives with dignity, free of discrimination, fear, violence and hate.” These words are from the City’s Welcome Statement. To live up to these values, we need to be honest with ourselves and the community about the problems we’ve identified that are holding us back. We can’t fix problems if we don’t name them. All cities have problems. We do too and we are trying to address them by talking about them so we can solve the problems together. 

To put it mildly, I am very disappointed how this search has spun out of control. It has revealed some ugly truths but I believe deep down that we can do better than this. 

For starters, I believe that this search process has been negatively influenced by a group of people within the police dept, some members of the Crime Prevention Fund and a handful of others. I have learned recently that their behavior has become inappropriately intertwined with police operations for years, has created numerous conflicts of interest, and has created an environment where some residents & city staff don’t feel safe being in the same room with our police officers.  It has infected the dept & created a toxic culture of hostility, intimidation, paternalism and racism and it has infected this process in direct opposition to our welcome statement and values. 

For starters, I have come to realize that there are a handful of situations of inappropriate interference by community members, certain police officials and a finalist candidate which have tainted and prejudiced the application stage, the community panel stage, the open house and the final interview/selection stage. These incidents have intentionally reduced the number and quality of potential local applicants and have been viewed by community members and panelists as intimidating, provocative, harassing and threatening. Here are two quick examples: 

  • At the open house on Thursday evening, a resident was intentionally directing community members to change their candidate preference ballots.  
  • Then, on Friday during the final interview/selection stage, right as the first interview was about to begin, a letter was hand-delivered to the City Manager by a police sergeant on behalf of police union representatives. To myself and another panelist, the timing and manner of delivery was intimidating, provocative and threatening.   

Out of the interviews on Friday and follow-up conversations with certain individuals on staff and in the community, I have also learned a number of concerning items: 

  • Residents and staff of color do not feel safe with some of the police department and over at Brookview Community Center. We have trouble retaining people of color and women on staff.  
  • We have officers who secretly recorded an equity meeting and used the recording to undermine the city’s equity efforts and intimidate staff. It has been nearly a year since this happened and no one has been disciplined for this behavior, even though it is in direct opposition to our city values, our welcome statement and possibly a violation of city policy. 
  • While crime numbers are trending up on the east side of the city and we’ve experienced two recent violent incidents, members of the police dept. are instead monitoring social media comments of city employees, their families and members of one of our city commissions.  
  • Members of the police department are receiving ethically questionable financial perks through the Crime Prevention Fund, creating the perception of conflicts of interest and preferential treatment to certain residents/businesses.  
  • And if we choose the wrong candidate for chief or issue other type of mandates, certain members of the police dept. have threatened to abandon the city they have sworn to protect and leave us vulnerable as crime is increasing across the metro area.  

For these reasons, I am calling on the city management to conduct an independent investigation into these incidents and practices of intimidation, harassment and racism. It is important that we demand accountability for our residents and for our employees. We have ignored these systems of bias and cultures of racism for far too long and it is time for us to come clean.  

Yes, we are experiencing pushback; arguably a backlash. That’s what institutions of bias and prejudice do. But we cannot and should not decide who the next police chief will be, based on threats of resignations, intimidation and bullying. We have an opportunity to act together in a way that is consistent with our welcome statement and values for the benefit of all.  

As for police chief candidates, I want to be clear. The majority of our community has been calling for change for some time. They have been calling for a change of culture in the police department. They want safety, accountability, transparency and a PD that provides service at a whole new level of community engagement. For that reason, the candidate who will best serve us is Chief Virgil Green.  

For the public, you should know that – on paper, the decision is up to the City Manager. But in practice, we created a community process. If we’re going to start it that way, then we should finish it that way. Either the final panel decides or the City Council decides. 

Shep Harris (he/him/his)

Golden Valley Mayor