Brian O’Hara Sworn in as Next Chief of Police

Jeremy Andrew, contributor

Minneapolis police chief nominee Brian O’Hara speaking to South Minneapolis community members gathered at Stewart Park for a meet and greet. He spent time talking about the consent decree process Newark went through and differences between Newark and Minneapolis.

On Nov. 3,  Brian O’Hara was sworn in as the next chief of police for Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), replacing Medaria Arradondo who had been in the position since 2017. This came after he won unanimous support from a previously divided city council, where some wished to promote interim Chief Amelia Huffman while others shared concerns about hiring an outsider. Having worked as the deputy mayor of Newark, New Jersey, O’Hara has now become the first outsider since 2006 to lead the MPD.

O’Hara has a background in law enforcement, having worked his way up the ranks of the Newark Police Department (NPD) to become the public safety director, then eventually becoming the city’s deputy mayor. With his previous work in Newark, many believe that he has the potential to instill change within the MPD. O’Hara also has had experience with implementing a federal consent decree, a ruling from a judge that resolves disputes without the admission of guilt or liability, in Newark. Back in 2016, O’Hara oversaw the five year implementation of 16 reforms in use of force, community policing and body camming, per a federal consent decree following a pattern of abuse at the hands of the NPD. This situation is similar to that of the murder of George Floyd which in turn we have seen calls for large-scale restructuring of the Minneapolis Police Department.

University of St. Thomas Law Professor Rachel Moran, who has become an expert on police accountability, spoke to CBS in an interview about how Newark was also known for excessive uses of force and discrimination in traffic stops. She believes that the choice of O’Hara for MPD’s new chief of police is interesting.

“He is someone with experience that would be hard to find anywhere else,” Moran said. “But I also think there are people who will be skeptical of this choice because he is someone who essentially grew up professionally in a really problematic police department.”

The fallout between the Minneapolis Police Department and the public after the murder of George Floyd was clearly on the minds of the elected officials who made O’Hara the 54th chief of police for Minneapolis. Mayor Jacob Frey, who faced severe backlash from protesters over his handling of the death of George Floyd, lauded O’Hara as an “an inclusive leader, a forward thinker, and a person of the highest moral integrity. His unrelenting willingness to show up and be present will allow him to succeed in driving police reform, reducing violent crime, and strengthening police-community relations.”

O’Hara described his primary ambitions for the department as reducing violent crime, which is becoming a major issue in local and state politics, and rebuilding community trust. Following his swearing in he told reporters at MPR News “I will do everything I can — as some of the members mentioned — to ensure that we are present, that I am present personally in the community and we engage with everyone, especially those who disagree with us. And so I’m incredibly thankful and I look forward to getting to work.” 

The Star Tribune reported he later echoed his commitment to ingratiating himself into both the Minneapolis community and Minneapolis Law Enforcement saying, “I’m the type of leader who prefers the street corner to the corner office.” His messaging has become more tame since his swearing in compared to his confirmation hearings when he said that “Everyone is hungry for change in this city… I’m not here to maintain the status quo”