Mayor Frey nominates Chief Judge Todd Barnette as Community Safety Commissioner

September 11, 2023

Today, Mayor Jacob Frey announced his nomination of Hennepin County Chief Judge Todd Barnette to serve as the City’s next Community Safety Commissioner. Barnette brings over three decades of legal expertise and management to the position in addition to deep existing relationships with residents, safety officials, reform experts, and elected leaders.  

As Chief Judge for the state’s largest Judicial Court District, Barnette has established himself as a leader in Minnesota’s public safety and criminal justice communities – one who sees and understands the full scope of the community safety system and can successfully manage complex, multi-departmental and multi-jurisdictional plans and programs while building trust with all stakeholders involved. He currently oversees Minnesota’s largest county court operations, managing 63 State judges and supporting over 550 employees, so he is no stranger to coordinating many entities, departments, and programs.

“Over the last three decades, Chief Judge Barnette has established himself as a leading voice in Minnesota’s public safety and criminal justice communities,” said Frey. “With his broad set of lived and professional experiences, he is uniquely situated to forge the partnerships necessary to continue building out a strong, comprehensive safety system and lead a team to keep Minneapolis safe. Judge Barnette is a rare talent, one that has deep connections in Minnesota, and I’m grateful he has agreed to serve as the next member of our administration’s cabinet.”  

As Chief Judge for the Fourth Judicial District Court in Minnesota, Barnette recently oversaw the transition from in-person to remote trial work and led an innovative approach to ensuring the administration of justice amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also represented the Fourth District Judiciary as an observer and participant in community and public safety around topics of critical interests facing the City of Minneapolis. 

Throughout his career, Barnette has worked as a judge, prosecutor, and public defender, presiding over thousands of cases, including several high-profile cases and numerous trials. He has a unique skill set with vast knowledge in city, county, and state resources, including a leadership role on the Hennepin County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee – a coordinator of multiple government parties to ensure justice and safety in the region. As Commissioner, he will use this experience to better visualize and coordinate multi-jurisdictional work. Barnette has also remained committed to justice and equality and has played a pivotal role in implementing policies that align with the needs and values of residents. 

“I know public safety is a top priority for Minneapolis and the residents who live here,” said Barnette. “I am dedicated to implementing effective strategies that address crime prevention, community policing, and the overall safety and well-being of Minneapolis residents and visitors. I am grateful for this opportunity and eager to work collaboratively with local, county, and state leaders to develop innovative solutions that promote safety and foster positive relationships between law enforcement, the city, and the community.” 

In 2020, Barnette was the first person of color to be elected chief judge of Hennepin County District Court. Prior to that, Barnette served the Court as the Assistant Chief Judge and District Court Judge and worked as an attorney for the Office of the Hennepin County Public Defender for more than a decade. Barnette received the Hennepin County Bar Association Professionalism Award in 2012 and the Hennepin County Champion of Change Award in 2004.  

Locally, Barnette’s efforts to strengthen community safety in Minneapolis are already underway through volunteer work and different committee memberships. He currently serves on the Hennepin County Bar Association Bar Memorial Committee and is a part of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District Safety Collaborative, where he helps amplify and bolster community-led solutions to address crime and safety initiatives downtown.  

Barnette’s work extends beyond the courtroom. For more than a decade, he’s mentored aspiring young law professionals at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and he’s worked as an adjunct professor at the university for the past five years. Barnette received his B.A. from The George Washington University in Washington D.C., and his law degree from the University of Minnesota.  

Upon City Council approval, Barnette would lead and direct the City’s Office of Community Safety (OCS) into the next chapter of Minneapolis’ safety work, including management of five departments: Police, Fire, 911, Emergency Management, and Neighborhood Safety. Since its creation roughly one year ago, OCS continues to support and foster a comprehensive approach to community safety in Minneapolis. Barnette would step in as Commissioner with a focus on strengthening internal partnership between the five safety departments; collaborate closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies; and coordinate with external businesses and community leaders to address any emerging safety issues. 

Lee Sheehy has served as Interim Community Safety Commissioner since early September following the retirement of Dr. Cedric Alexander, the City’s first commissioner.  

The mayor’s nomination will be transmitted to the full City Council for consideration at its September 21 meeting. The Community Safety Commissioner is a four-year appointed term.