What We Do
The Office of the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) oversees department staff, programming and initiatives. DPS is an enforcement, licensing and services agency that develops and operates programs in the areas of law enforcement, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, fire safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration, emergency management and public safety information. The department coordinates the functions and services of the state relating to the safety and convenience of its citizens (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 299A).
The Office of Commissioner works in partnership with:
Local, state and federal elected officials and legislators
Local state and federal law enforcement and emergency response agencies
Public, private and non-profit associations representing public safety, law enforcement, emergency response, crime victims, etc.
The commissioner serves as chair for the following:
Related Minnesota Statutes
Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 299A
John Harrington was appointed commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety by Gov. Tim Walz in January 2019.
Prior to his appointment, Harrington served as the Metro Transit Chief of Police for the Twin Cities area, overseeing significant growth of the agency and increasing diversity of the department from 5 to 50 percent.
In 1977, Harrington began at the St. Paul Police Department as a patrol officer, working his way up the chain of command. He was selected chief of police in 2004 and served in that role until 2010. As chief, he addressed some of St. Paul’s most difficult problems. This resulted in numerous successes, including the development of innovative programs that have greatly reduced domestic violence and gang involvement.
Harrington served as a Minnesota state senator from the east side of St. Paul from 2010 to 2012. Harrington has been on the faculty at Metropolitan State University, Saint Mary’s University, and the University of St. Thomas, where he has taught Leadership, Demographics, Community Oriented Policing, and Gangs.
Harrington is a founding member of the Asian-American and black police officer associations. He helped launch and currently chairs the board at Ujamaa Place, a non-profit agency that works with African-American men to transition them out of prison and gangs to become productive community members.
Harrington was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth University and master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas. He is the father of five adult children and has 16 grandchildren, and currently resides in the Twin Cities.
Cassandra O’Hern is deputy commissioner for the Department of Public Safety.
Prior to her appointment as deputy commissioner, O’Hern served as the department’s assistant commissioner since June of 2015 and the Director of Internal Affairs and Affirmative Action since 2005. In that capacity she managed the department’s internal investigations and affirmative action and equal employment opportunity programs.
Prior to joining the Department of Public Safety, O’Hern was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Minnesota. As an Assistant Attorney General she defended the various state agencies in civil litigation, including employment and labor law matters. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1993 and she also holds a Masters of Planning degree from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the American University in Washington, D.C., double majoring in economics and international relations.
Bob Hawkins is assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Prior to his appointment as assistant commissioner, Hawkins served as the Licensing and Testing Project Manager for the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). In that capacity Hawkins coordinated all peace officer license testing functions, assisted with all facets of the licensing requirements and was responsible for coordinating the POST Board’s transition to computer based testing.
Prior to joining the POST Board, Hawkins served as Chief of the Burnsville Police Department. He joined the department in 1988 and served as a patrol officer, canine handler, sergeant and captain before his promotion to chief in 2004. Hawkins’s nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience also includes serving as a patrol officer in Eagan.
Hawkins is a graduate from the University of St. Thomas with a master’s degree in Police Administration and also attained a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University with a focus in Criminal Justice.
The Office of the Commissioner currently has seven full-time staff working at the 445 Minnesota Street location. Those positions include the commissioner, deputy commissioner, assistant commissioner, legal counsel, legislative/government affairs director, executive aide and office support staff position. There are also 14 full-time division directors reporting to the commissioners of public safety.
DPS was created in 1969, per Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 299A. The first commissioner was Wallace Hoglund in 1970. For more information on the history of DPS, see the Commissioner's Office History Page. You will also find a chronological list of all present and past DPS commissioners on the History Page.