Minneapolis’s new police chief Brian O’Hara was candid and honest with residents when he spoke at Southwest High School on Monday night. O’Hara answered questions from audience members, alongside Fifth Precinct Inspector Katie Blackwell and City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano in the school’s cafeteria. Palmisano, Ward 13’s councilmember, hosted the conversation.

The conversation was a chance for people to ask questions to O’Hara directly and get a sense of how he approaches policing. He also stayed after to speak one-on-one with residents.

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara speaks with residents on December 12 at Southwest High School. The event was organized by City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano.

O’Hara is coming into the job after the unrest of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by former-Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin. Due to its documented history of racial discrimination, the MPD is very likely heading into a consent decree, a process that O’Hara’s previous police department in Newark, New Jersey went through.

O’Hara spoke candidly about his role improving the relations between residents and the police.

O’Hara said he won’t be hiding in an office in City Hall.  “You will see me at crime scenes,” O’Hara said. Throughout the night, O’Hara recounted his first four weeks on the job that had included attending officer roll calls and riding with officers at night.

During the conversation, O’Hara was direct with residents, choosing to give specific examples rather than talking points. O’Hara exuded the most emotions talking about how children are wrapped up into the violence in Minneapolis.

O’Hara responded to a Ward 4 resident asking about juveniles being released without guidance after committing crimes. "I don't see enough being done with our juveniles," the resident said. “It’s literally getting out of hand,” the resident said.  

“It’s totally and completely out of hand,” O’Hara said. O’Hara shared numerous anecdotes involving children and stolen vehicles. When he visited the scene of a recent shooting in North, he spoke with a mother whose child died last year. Her child was gone from the house for less than an hour and died as a passenger in a stolen car.

O’Hara told the audience that late Sunday night a 14-year-old was in a one-car crash and is now on life support and will likely die. He also talked about a 12-year-old who was recently shot while in a stolen car. “That’s the second time he's been shot in the last three weeks,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said the solution isn’t to “lock em up” but the children need monitoring and support. O’Hara acknowledged that children don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions.

“We need more than just the police here,” O’Hara said. “We need help.”

O’Hara even took a shot at the car manufacturers, highlighting that Kia and Hyundai are making money while "we have kids dying over this." Kia and Hyundia are two types of cars that are easy to steal and youth are stealing these cars as a form of competition.

O’Hara wants everyone with a Kia and Hyundai to have The Club installed. Police stations have some to offer residents

"We need everyone involved in solutions to this," O’Hara said.

Palmisano followed up saying that Hennepin County and related social services are a great place to start with collaboration.  She referenced MN HEALS 2.0, which is “a cross-sector effort to address violent crime in Hennepin County” that includes law enforcement, faith leaders, the business community, and local elected officials. MN HEALS 2.0 released a report on juvenile carjackings in September.

O’Hara said he was alarmed to learn about many police policies here in Minneapolis.

O’Hara said he is aware that a lot of officers left the force in 2020 and started to collect pensions, even if they were under active investigation regarding on-duty behavior. “You can’t just bail out and get a pension,” O’Hara said.

A Ward 3 resident asked O’Hara if officers are still working off duty jobs and buy back beats.

"I have issues with this," O’Hara said, while acknowledging that past litigation and union contract negotiations makes it very difficult to curb off-duty work.

"I am not ok with the way the current set up is here," O’Hara said. He specifically called out the practice of City resources, like squad cars, being used by officers when working with private companies.

"It's rife for corruption," O’Hara said about off-duty police work. He told the audience to Google New Jersey off-duty work. "Dozens arrested by the FBI for things like that,” O’Hara said. Here is one story found in that suggested Google search.

Another policy that O’Hara said “blew his mind” was the lack of accountability in getting reports of officers being arrested outside of Minnesota.

There are “a number of things like that I will ask the legislature to change,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara is seemingly already doing things differently. O’Hara said he has called in three officers to talk about behavior and said the police union president was shocked.

“People didn't know what to think," O’Hara said.  

He also wants to spend more time talking with residents. “People who don’t agree with us in the community--what good does it do if we don't talk to them?” O’Hara said.

O’Hara acknowledged the public’s perception that Minneapolis police officers come into the city to police and leave after their shift. "That perception that needs to change," O’Hara said.

He said one of the best ways to get people to see that the police care is “to get more people on the force with a connection to the city."

When a resident asked about arbitrators having the final say over police misconduct discipline, O’Hara agreed with the arbitrator’s decision-making power.

"It's the truth, those are facts,” O’Hara said “It can be frustrating at times."

He also doesn’t like how long the discipline process takes. He wants to see the discipline happening close in time to when bad behavior occurs. He admitted that he’s already sent back discipline rulings that have led to a slower process in getting an officer appropriately disciplined.

"The process just takes too long," O’Hara said in regards to working with officers on correcting their behavior. "The system here is so cumbersome."

City Council unanimously approved O’Hara’s nomination as police chief, which Palmisano referenced as an anomaly with the current council. O’Hara was sworn into office on November 7.