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Local View: Hiring of Duluth police chief another inside job for Minnesota

From the column: "The issue of inside or outside the unit when hiring new leadership is not novel to Duluth."

Man in police uniform
The badge that police chief Mike Ceynowa wears seen at the Duluth Police Department headquarters on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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Duluth faced a conundrum this summer similar to many other cities in Minnesota with its search for a new police chief.

In replacing Mike Tusken, who retired after more than 30 years with the department, including the last six as chief, the city had to decide whether his successor should be a current employee or one from outside the department’s ranks.

Duluth opted to go internal, selecting 24-year veteran Mike Ceynowa, the deputy chief of patrol, as the News Tribune reported Sept. 17. The Fridley, Minnesota, native was one of six applicants, a mixture of internal and external aspirants, and he was one of a trio who was interviewed.

Man in police uniform
Mike Ceynowa, the new police chief, seen with a squad car at the Duluth Police Department headquarters on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The issue of inside or outside the unit when hiring new leadership is not novel to Duluth. Other cities, such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, where most of my legal practice is concentrated, as well as suburban places, like Golden Valley, where I live, are facing the same issue as they go about the task of finding new heads for their law-enforcement units. In doing so, they have come up with different approaches.

The state’s two largest cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, have gone in different directions. In the former, unlike Duluth, the mayor nominated an outsider, Brian O’ Hara, a veteran New Jersey police officer and deputy mayor of Newark, New Jersey, from a pool of three finalists, all external. In St. Paul, a citizens-led search committee advanced five finalists to the mayor, four of them current members of the force and a single outsider from Philadelphia; the selection is expected later this fall.

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In Golden Valley, after a botched initial search, the city went outside its boundaries to select Virgil Green, an African American officer from all the way down in Oklahoma. The Golden Valley situation parallels Duluth’s to some extent. Both cities have been roiled with considerable racism, which underlied both police-chief selection processes. In Golden Valley, it was sparked by the mayor’s criticism of an internal search process spotlighting a current white officer, which the mayor suggested was biased, from a hostile “culture” of racism, a critique for which he later apologized. In Duluth, racial concerns were raised by an outside monitoring organization earlier this year about racial disparities in arrest data, which led to a contretemps about the department’s statistical methodology, among other features. That flap also resulted in a social-media attack by a law enforcement abuse watchdog organization on the integrity of the statistical analysis, which later was withdrawn from the group’s website.

These approaches and others like them show that one size does not fit all, just as different formats show that the one size does not fit all.

Traditionally, police chiefs have been chosen from within the ranks, like Ceynowa was. There are advantages to this. Candidates are most familiar with the staff and procedures and, conversely, the staff, other employees, and the community know them best compared to an outsider. But other factors come into play, too. Promoting internally often creates, or unearths, divisiveness. It also may inhibit a fresh face from coming in with new solutions to existing and future problems.

Additionally, concerns over gender equity, racial considerations, and the like also play a role in tending to expand the pool of applicants beyond the traditional inbred ones. Ceynowa implicitly recognized these concerns in accepting the position, emphasizing the desire to stabilize the department and retain high-quality personnel while expanding diversity as he oversees the $26 million annual budget and a 158-officer force.

Diversity was served a bit by longtime officer Laura Marquardt, who served as an interim chief after Tusken stepped down to coordinate law enforcement for Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College. Marquardt was the first woman to lead the department.

The same occurred in Minneapolis, where the interim chief, following the retirement of its popular chief, Medaria Arrodondo, who led the city through the George Floyd murder and its aftermath, also was a woman: Amelia Huffman, the second one at the helm of that city’s department. However, she was bypassed in the selection of finalists, who were chosen exclusively from external applicants.

Now that Duluth has made its choice — including staying internal — how other cities address and resolve these issues remains to be seen. As these variations reflect, there is no single right way to make the selection. But, given the high stakes in law enforcement in these troubled times, the elected officials and administrators involved in making these decisions had better get it right.

Marshall H. Tanick is a constitutional law attorney in Minneapolis. He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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Marshall Tanick.jpg
Marshall H. Tanick

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