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Mayor nominates Brian O'Hara for Minneapolis police chief

Jacob Frey wants O'Hara to steer the community into a new chapter of law enforcement, and stem the violent crime plaguing neighborhoods and downtown.

MINNEAPOLIS — The mayor of Minneapolis has selected the person he wants to lead the city's police department into its next chapter. 

After a nationwide search process that stretched on for more than six months, Mayor Jacob Frey has nominated Brian O'Hara as the next Minneapolis police chief. O'Hara, currently serving as deputy mayor of Newark, New Jersey, was selected from a group of three finalists named by a search committee in early September.

Frey points to O'Hara's decades of experience in law enforcement, starting as a street cop and rising through the ranks to become Public Safety Director of Newark, overseeing more than 1,900 hundred employees and a department with an annual budget of $200 million. In that role he carved out a working relationship with federal, state and local partners, while enacting criminal justice reforms. 

"We will take the MPD from the darkness and trauma that has been experienced in this city and create a beacon of light for policing across this country. The foundation of policing is trust," O'Hara said at the news conference. "And as the Minneapolis Chief of Police, I will work day and night to ensure the residents of this city can trust that they feel safe and all the people in this city will know that the MPD has their backs."

The Minneapolis City Council still needs to vote on whether or not to approve O'Hara. When Mayor Frey was asked if he had the City Council's backing for O'Hara, Frey said he would not speak for them. 

The mayor's nomination will be submitted to the City Council at its meeting on Thursday, October 6. At that point it will be assigned to a committee for review – KARE 11's John Croman says it will most likely be the Health and Public Safety committee.

The committee will hold hearings and eventually forward its recommendation to the full City Council for a vote. Mayor Frey is hoping for a vote in October or early November at the latest.

"Minneapolis has been asking for change, and Brian O'Hara is ready to deliver longstanding solutions," said Mayor Frey in a news release. "I've said all along that this is among the most consequential hires I will make as mayor, and I know that Brian is the right choice."

The structure of law enforcement has changed significantly following the death of George Floyd at the hands of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin. Community anger with the department's checkered history and dissatisfaction with the status quo led to the hiring of Cedric Alexander as the city's first Community Safety Commissioner. 

Alexander is in charge of all the city’s community safety departments, including Police, Fire, 911, Emergency Management, and the Office of Violence Prevention (Neighborhood Safety). That means he is the new chief's boss. 

The police chief job unofficially opened in December of 2021 with the announced departure of Medaria Arradondo, who was at the helm of MPD at the time of Floyd's death and the widespread unrest that followed. Arradondo spent more than 30 years rising through the ranks of the department and five years as the city's first Black police chief, and Thursday's nomination could be interpreted as a move to start with a clean slate. 

The nominee has experience working in a department that has experienced consent decrees, basically court-enforced mandates to guide policing practices after systematic failures. These are likely to come to Minneapolis soon as a result of either a state investigation, federal Department of Justice investigation, or both. 

"I personally think that's an important attribute to bring to this new role," Jenkins recently said of operating under a consent decree. "We need a nimble chief that understands that process, that work, and to be engaged in that."  

Following the nomination, Jenkins told KARE 11 in a statement that "I look forward to going through a rigorous confirmation process as well as gauging community reactions and input on Mayor Frey’s nomination of Brian O’Hara."

O'Hara earned a reputation among peers in Newark as a change-maker, highlighted by his role in overseeing the consent decree. 

Philip R. Sellinger, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, told KARE 11 in a phone interview that O'Hara's work was "transformational" in Newark.

"With Brian as the police director in Newark, it was a prime example of how you can have both robust law enforcement and protection of civil rights at the same time," Sellinger said. "I can tell you that we at the U.S. Attorney's Office had no better partner than the Newark Police Department under Brian's leadership."

Here is a biography the city provided when O'Hara was named one of the three finalists for the position. 

Brian O’Hara currently serves as the Deputy Mayor of the City of Newark (NJ). In 2001, Deputy Mayor O’Hara joined the Newark Police Department as a police officer, rising through the ranks to become a captain in 2016. In 2021, he was appointed as the Public Safety Director for Newark overseeing more than 1,960 employees, comprising 996 sworn police officers, 611 firefighters, and 346 civilian employees, and a budget that exceeded $200 million. In that role, Deputy Mayor O’Hara enhanced the collaborative working relationships among federal, state, and local partners, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Newark Police Department, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness, and numerous other state and local agencies and police departments.

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