Cedric Alexander traveled to Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 to help ease racial tensions after police killed a black man. He testified months later before senators in Washington, D.C., about improving relations between law enforcement and communities of color.
Then crisis hit at home.
Kevin Davis, a black man, called 911 in DeKalb County, Georgia to report that someone had stabbed his girlfriend in her apartment and left. Shortly after, Davis heard gunshots. He left with a revolver, fearing that the assailant had returned. His dog had been killed.
An officer said Davis refused to drop the gun, although he did not point it at police. The officer shot Davis and he was charged with aggravated assault. Davis was handcuffed to a hospital bed for two days before his death on New Years Eve.
What Alexander did next as DeKalb County Public Safety Director — and how he handled other cases throughout his career — shows how he could tackle the most high-profile job in America’s Policing Today: Transforming a Minneapolis Police Department that’s been associated with brutality around the world. and racism in 2020 after a passerby filmed an officer kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed, unarmed black man named George Floyd until he died.
Shortly after the Davis shooting, Alexander faced demands from activists and Davis’ family for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to independently investigate the shooting instead of his own department. It had never been done, said Davis family attorney Mawuli Davis.
“Those first meetings were intense and stressful at times,” recalls Mawuli Davis. “But he finally did what the community asked for.”
If the Minneapolis City Council confirms his appointment by Mayor Jacob Frey to head a newly organized public safety department, Alexander, 67, will inherit some serious problems. Violent crime is at its highest level in a generation. The city negotiates a monitoring program with state officials, who found MPD engaged in racial discrimination. He faces a court hearing over why he is failing to meet minimum personnel requirements after hundreds of officers left after Floyd’s killing. Community groups continue to demand accountability after Minneapolis police fatally shot three people – one this month – since Floyd’s murder.
“I told him his skills were a perfect match – ‘Go to Minneapolis, based on the story and the murder of George Floyd. Build an agency and, more importantly, build bridges,’” said Michael Thurmond, DeKalb County’s chief executive. . “This case changed the world, so we’re all invested in what’s happening in Minneapolis.”
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The last time Alexander was sworn in as police chief was in DeKalb County in 2013, shortly before Black Lives Matter gained national notoriety by questioning police tactics. . He became director of public safety the following year, while also serving as president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
His decision to entrust the Davis case to the GBI impressed Vernon Keenan, the head of the Georgian agency. He said Alexander was the first in metro Atlanta to do so.
A month later, in March 2015, Alexander’s department made national news when a DeKalb County officer shot and killed a naked, unarmed black veteran named Anthony Hill who was suffering from a mental health crisis. This time, the case was immediately assigned to the GBI, now standard practice in Georgia (the officer is serving a 20-year sentence). Alexander began mandating 40 hours of mental health training for all officers, and Thurmond credits Alexander with laying the foundation for many county mental health programs.
In April, Alexander traveled to Baltimore amid riots over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in police custody. The following month, President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing – which Alexander served on – released a 116-page report calling for increased use of body cameras, community policing and health training mental.
The controversies persisted.
In September, officers responding to a possible burglary drove into a residence, killed the family dog and shot the owner and a fellow officer. Other law enforcement officials say Alexander’s first words at a news conference about the shooting were a version of: We’ve been to the wrong house.
“It’s something that hasn’t been done,” said Keenan, who later added the footage to training materials explaining how to respond to controversial incidents. “He came out front and said, ‘It’s a bad incident here. “”
Protesters came to a meeting of DeKalb County commissioners in September; a few called on Alexander to resign. Resident John Stalcup wrote a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying, “Alexander, I know we’re not perfect, but for God’s sake, who’s training these officers?… At the Instead of citizens seeing you on TV in Ferguson, Baltimore, or New York, maybe it would be good to stay in DeKalb and stop some of this out-of-control crime.”
Aurielle Marie Lucier was one of 15 protesters who spent weeks outside the courthouse after Davis’ murder, and felt Alexander’s public statements for better policing were at odds with what she lived as an organizer.
“He did a great job of packing the rhetoric,” Lucier said. She added that she didn’t know “if the track record backs that up in the cities where he worked.” He set his sights on bigger roles, she said, “even while a dumpster fire was burning on his own turf.”
His star kept rising: Alexander was a finalist to lead the Chicago Police Department in 2016, even after criticizing the agency in a CNN op-ed for blocking the airing of damning footage of a killing officer Laquan McDonald.
Alexander said his public appearances helped restore trust in the community, which helped the police department close cases. Thurmond recalled Alexander as dedicated and approachable, saying, “When you’re good at what you do, people will seek you out and ask your opinion.”
While he still expects to occasionally give a voice in national forums, Alexander said those appearances would become infrequent if he accepted the Minneapolis job: “I’ll be pretty busy doing what I’m doing there. .”
A focus on mental health
Alexander spent the first decades of his career in law enforcement in his home state of Florida, where he served as a deputy sheriff and then an officer for the Miami-Dade Police Department. He earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and was a faculty member at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York State in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Alexander joined the city’s police department as deputy chief in 2002. The department was the first in New York to offer a mentally distressed response unit, according to dispatches. Alexander said they provided 40 to 80 hours of intense mental health training for officers and worked to dispatch them on mental health calls.
His swearing in as the first black police chief in 2005 – an interim appointment by the city’s first black mayor – was hailed as historic.
Months later, an officer fatally shot a 13-year-old black girl whose family called 911 after locking herself in the bathroom with a knife. Alexander acknowledged that no one from the program was available to respond as they were on other calls, but said that when those officers were present, negative interactions with those in mental distress dropped “virtually to zero”.
Alexander left the DPR in 2006 to become Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, before taking jobs in Texas and Georgia. He returned to Rochester in 2017, this time as deputy mayor.
Some Rochester groups described Alexander as a formidable ally who understood the importance of connecting violence prevention organizations.
“He listened and came to us,” said Wanda Ridgeway, executive director of Rise Up Rochester, a nonprofit organization seeking to facilitate interactions between officers and victims of crime.
Rochester is facing a class action lawsuit accusing the police department of a long pattern of racism and excessive force. Some plaintiffs allege police abuse during protests in 2020 over the RPD killing of Daniel Prude, a mentally ill, naked, unarmed black man. The class action period runs from 2018 to 2021; the suit names, among others, Alexander’s former boss, former Mayor Lovely Warren.
Alexander said the mental health programs he started in Rochester were “slowly diluted” by those who took over after his term as police chief ended, and when he returned as deputy mayor, the police were not his responsibility. Warren said the police report directly to her.
After leaving the post in 2019, Alexander worked as a consultant and national television commentator who often spoke out in the wake of high-profile police killings – including those of Floyd and Prude – and called for more training. and transparency.
In the event of a crisis in Minneapolis, Alexander said residents should expect to hear from him and the heads of all response agencies. Frey said he received helpful advice from Alexander over the phone in the days after Andrew Tekle Sundberg was killed by police following an armed confrontation.
It is the council, not Frey, that Alexander must now convince. Some board members want to know more about his experiences outside of law enforcement, saying they think it’s crucial for a holistic approach to security.
They could proceed to a final vote as early as August 4.