“Seminal moment” fizzles in Minneapolis

Last summer Minneapolis Mayor Frey announced the hiring of Dr. Cedrick Alexander to lead the newly created Office of Community Safety. Mayor Frey called Alexander’s hire a “seminal moment” in the history of the city. Alexander’s role was to coordinate the efforts of five public safety departments in the city — police, fire, emergency management, 911 communications, and neighborhood safety.

“You are going to want to work for Commissioner Cedric Alexander. You’re going to want to get on board with this leadership because it’s going to be transformational, and it’s going to be trendsetting nationwide.”

Mayor Jacob Frey 

By many accounts, Alexander was anything but “transformational” as he failed to establish the relationships needed to carry out his role. As a result, his announced departure just one year into a four-year appointment doesn’t sound like much of a surprise, or much of a disappointment.

I wrote about Alexander’s hire last summer — find that article here. In it, I noted that with all the problems facing public safety in Minneapolis, the city didn’t need more bureaucracy, it needed more police. 

Shortly after publishing the article, I received an email from a former Dekalb County, Georgia employee familiar with Alexander’s time there as Public Safety Director. The emailer noted that Alexander had a history of jumping from job to job. The emailer commented that Alexander’s hire represented poor due diligence on the part of the city of Minneapolis, and ended with the prediction that Alexander wouldn’t last more than a year. Bingo.

A year later most of the work Alexander was brought in to complete remains undone. Police recruitment and retention is a mess — MPD has hired just 18 officers and lost about 38 in 2023. Organizing, coordinating, and establishing accountability over the “violence interrupter” groups the city has budgeted millions of dollars for has shown little progress. Recently, the behavioral health professionals the city has invested in with a pilot program have expressed frustration with Alexander for not including them in planning and coordination, and as a result the future of the program is in question.

During the announcement of his retirement, Alexander cited the success of Operation Endeavor last fall as the signature achievement of his tenure. The operation leveraged cooperation from law enforcement partners to work with MPD to provide intensive, high-visibility law enforcement in identified hot spots for crime. There is no complaint about the initiative — it’s exactly the type of thing law enforcement around the country has done for decades to combat crime. The rub is that Operation Endeavor didn’t require a new bureaucracy or Cedric Alexander to get off the ground. It only needed a city that valued its police department and recognized the value of proactive policing. 

With Alexander’s departure, Mayor Frey has indicated he intends to find a new Commissioner of Community Safety and intends to continue compensating that position at nearly $335,000/year, saying “you get what you pay for.”

I continue to believe it’s in Minnesota’s collective best interest that Minneapolis succeeds. Missteps like the trial and error with Alexander make it difficult to maintain the faith.