Cedric Alexander spoke after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey introduced him in July 2022 as his nominee to serve as the new community safety commissioner. Credit: Anthony Soufflé | Star Tribune (file photo)

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Cedric Alexander, who stepped into the newly created role of community safety commissioner for Minneapolis last year, is stepping down September 1 after a turbulent 12 months working to repair the city’s system of policing.

Alexander’s short tenure was marked by backlash over online interactions with the public and criticism about the pace of change within the new Office of Community Safety, tasked with creating a comprehensive public safety model that marries traditional policing with unarmed alternatives.

In an interview, Alexander defended his work to build what he called a “historic” city enterprise against political headwinds, respond to generational highs in violent crime and lure tourists back downtown.

“Whoever takes the torch here from me, they’re on a firm foundation,” Alexander, 68, said hours after formally announcing his retirement Thursday. “[We’ve got] people feeling confident coming back in this city and feel safe.”

He pointed to the success of violence-reduction campaigns like Operation Endeavor, a multijurisdictional partnership Minneapolis officials credited with significant reductions in shootings and carjackings over a 90-day span in late 2022 compared to the same period the previous year.

However, data show some crimes started declining by August, the month before the city announced the creation of Operation Endeavor, according to an analysis by the Star Tribune, suggesting other factors at play as well.

Alexander, a nationally recognized law enforcement veteran, was tapped by Mayor Jacob Frey last summer to oversee leaders from five city departments: Police, Fire, Emergency Management, 911, and Neighborhood Safety (formerly known as the Office of Violence Prevention).

He was confirmed in August following an 8-3 vote by the City Council, with two members abstaining. Supporters lauded him as the right man to help the city fulfill its promise to transform public safety following George Floyd’s murder by police three years ago, while several elected officials questioned his track record.

At the time, Frey called Alexander’s appointment to the position a “seminal” moment in city history. Alexander, who answers directly to the mayor, was brought in as Minneapolis’ highest paid staffer, earning $334,000—more than Frey and Governor Tim Walz combined.

He vowed to work to better coordinate city services, rebuild trust in Minneapolis and bolster the police department’s dwindling ranks, but cautioned that change takes time.

Alexander spent four decades working in law enforcement and has a doctorate in clinical psychology. He worked in a variety of local, state and federal offices, including in Georgia’s DeKalb County, where he served as public safety director, a role similar to the one created for him in Minneapolis.

He endured a rocky start, immediately won the ire of residents who questioned his new downtown policing strategy of parking empty squad cars on Nicollet Avenue. In a series of defensive Tweets, Alexander lashed out at several critics, accusing one of “two-faced talking from both sides of your mouth.”

He formally apologized for his tone the next day. Frey later reprimanded him for violating the city’s social media policy.

This spring, Alexander won praise from Frey and Council President Andrea Jenkins for his office’s handling of Operation Swift Summer, which coordinated security for the Taylor Swift concert, Pride, Taste of Minnesota, and July 4th—events that attracted massive crowds to downtown Minneapolis without major problems.

“When Minneapolis needed strong leadership and a clear vision, he answered the call,” Frey said in a statement Thursday. “I am grateful for his dedication to our city and his excellent work to curb violent crime and make a comprehensive safety system a reality.”

The retirement announcement comes amid mounting criticism by mental health contractors and council members who work closely with the Office of Community Safety about a lack of communication and progress. Others questioned a lack of recent public appearances.

In an interview earlier this month, Alexander said he hadn’t been given the resources to overhaul public safety but that he understood exactly what kind of new system federal officials want Minneapolis to adopt.

“I need people to stop criticizing what we do, and sit down and listen to me,” he told the Star Tribune in response to questions about his leadership.

Alexander said he envisioned replacing the city’s five police precincts with full-service community centers equipped with social services to fight addiction, homelessness and other root causes of problems that manifest on the street—but he didn’t have the resources.

On Thursday, he denied that any recent criticism was a factor in his departure.

“That’s just kind of par for the course,” Alexander said, noting that administrators are always admonished for “not moving fast enough.”

“I don’t take personal offense to it,” he continued. Alexander came out of retirement to take the Minneapolis job, and said Thursday that when he started he didn’t have a plan for how long he’d stay.

Alexander contended that he and a small staff managed to prop up the fledgling office, break down silos between departments and push the city forward, leaving it in a better place than a year ago.

In May, Alexander updated the City Council on his progress, noting that he held weekly meetings with the five department heads to “build relationships.” He again touted the success of Endeavor here and Operation Memphis, which readied that city for the possibility of civil unrest following the January release of videos from the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols by five officers in Tennessee.

When Alexander presented an organizational chart—showing a chief of staff, a personal assistant and a litany of media specialists—some council members questioned why his office was beginning to resemble a public relations firm.

“We got a lot to do in terms of educating people around the Office of Community Safety,” he replied.

Supporters argue that he was set up to fail. They alleged a double standard between the council’s reaction to Alexander and its treatment of Police Chief Brian O’Hara, who was welcomed to Minneapolis last fall with a unanimous confirmation vote.

“I think he was the right man for the wrong time and the wrong city,” said Lisa Clemons, a retired police sergeant and founder of the street outreach group A Mother’s Love Initiative. “I don’t believe he was given the tools needed to make change, like the council and mayor gave our chief.”

Alexander maintained a “contentious” relationship with O’Hara, according to multiple sources with firsthand knowledge. However, Alexander downplayed any personality conflict Thursday, saying their relationship “has been a respectful one.”

Asked if this marked a true retirement from public life, Alexander demurred.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “That’s my intent—as it was the first time—but I will always be available to this city.”

“Jacob [Frey] said he’ll call on me if needed, and [I] welcome him to do that.”

It’s not immediately clear what potential severance package Alexander is entitled to under his contract . A city spokeswoman confirmed that he is eligible to receive half of his unused vacation as a cash payment, and half deposited in a health care savings account.

Frey promised to outline a transition plan in the coming weeks and ultimately fill the position.

Staff writer Susan Du contributed to this story.

Liz Sawyer covers Minneapolis crime and policing at the Star Tribune.