When Medaria Arradondo became Minneapolis’ first black police chief in 2017, the department was in trouble. His predecessor resigned after an officer killed an Australian woman who called for help, and a shootings of minorities were straining a fraught relationship with the black community. Arradondo, a veteran police officer who once accused his own department of racist employment practices in a lawsuit, promised changes. He made data on use of force available to the public, required officers to turn on body cameras at the beginning of each call and ended low-level marijuana enforcement, the Wall Street Journal reports. Less than three years after he was sworn in, the death of George Floyd has thrust his city into chaos and prompted violent protests across the U.S.
The killing of Floyd shows how hard it is to alter entrenched police tactics and culture. Arradondo, a soft-spoken Minneapolis native known as “Rondo,” had implemented changes long sought by activists, continuing the department’s recent push to hold its officers more accountable. Those reforms mirrored many around the nation after an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. That incident and many others fueled nationwide protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Even what we consider a progressive, forward-looking police chief still has problems in his ranks,” said Chris Burbank, a former Salt Lake City police chief now with the Center for Policing Equity, a reform group that has worked with Arradondo. “It shows how deeply rooted these things are.” Minneapolis and other departments face difficulty punishing officers. Unions like the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis fight to shield their members, both through contract negotiations and disciplinary hearings, saying that neither top police officials nor the public understands how dangerous their jobs are.