The police chief’s nails were not all Frenched up for this interview.
When do you expect to ever write that? Or hear, “I’m a woman first, a police chief second.” Or joke about how parents who give their daughters names like Janeé and Holly probably aren’t expecting those girls to grow up to become police officers.
Minneapolis’ first woman police chief, Janeé Harteau, brings unique perspectives and an unexpected toolbox to the office. In her tenure with the department, Harteau has filed a complaint against fellow officers for sexual harassment. To view the toolbox, see my startribune.com/video.
Harteau showed me a side of her we don’t see in news conferences. “Nobody calls the police because things are good. They don’t call us to tell us they feel safe. They don’t call to say, ‘We’re happy you’re here.’ They call us because there is a crisis. Even though community members might be happy [police] are there, they are still under a crisis when that occurs,” said Harteau, who is looking for opportunities for her police to show they are just humans. “I looked forward to talking to you today for that very reason. I’m just Janeé,” she said.
The chief does not feel her style of leadership, which is openness, is being communicated when TV stations keep running a certain piece of video.
She talks with her hands. “I was walking away and I went [she raised her hand to wave goodbye] ‘OK, well, see ya,’ and now it’s used as the ‘I-won’t-answer-questions’ clip,” she said, playfully. Police chief had better not scowl, either. We media LOVE a good scowly photo clip to file away and use whenever we need it!
The chief was mostly smiles at the office — although media note: SHE DOES NOT LIKE REPEATING HERSELF. On the homefront, Harteau joked, “We’ve been together for 25 years but we’re still not sure,” when asked if she and police Sgt. Holly Keegel, parents of a teenager, plan to marry.
“I couldn’t be any more married. Now we’ll just make it legal. Of course we will.”
Beyond that wedding day kiss, Harteau is still angling for a peck on the cheek from President Obama, who has not yet kissed her, although they have met more than once.
“Still bummed about this whole Obama kiss thing, you know,” she said. “No kiss on the cheek, nothing. I’ve been telling everybody, after you did the article, that he didn’t want Michelle to get jealous. Maybe he doesn’t like me; I think he likes me.”
Well, I know a certain Yankee goon doesn’t like me but I still can’t wait for that team to return to Minneapolis and play the Twins, now that I have official word from the police chief that I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE ON THE SIDEWALK! Read on …
Q What is the one thing that has surprised you the most as far as being police chief?
A People really care about what I say today. I say a lot of the same things that I used to, but the fact that I hold the title gives what I say much more value. And people are actually interested in what I have to say. They ask me for my opinion more.
Q How has the job encroached on your time off in a way your previous post didn’t?
A There is no time off. The city is busy. You can imagine with 1,000 employees and a city of this size, there’s always something going on. I have to get out of state and out of town to really have time off.
Q What is a perk of your job you enjoy the most?
A I love having the power to put people in positions where I feel they will flourish. The ability to highlight and showcase the heroism. When we had our awards ceremony a couple of weeks ago, [I] was so proud to be able to stand there, to know I’m the leader and get to honor the heroism. Nothing’s more fun than that.
Q You promised to bring transparency to the office. But members of the media are not feeling the openness when you rebuff questions asked when you’re not expecting them.
A I don’t know that I agree with that. I’m not sure which questions. … If it’s part of an investigation, [and] I can’t disclose that, I won’t. When it comes to process, what we’re actually doing, I’m more than happy to talk about that. Anything I can talk about, I want to talk about. I always appreciate the opportunity to explain things. Same with the transparency piece. That’s a huge priority to me. When I’m in a position where I can’t share something, it frustrates me, too.
Q Former Chief Tony Bouza does not think the police chief should dress like the police officers. The secretary of defense doesn’t. Bouza thinks some police forget they serve the public. He thinks it looks more like you serve the public if you dress like a civilian.
A Actually, I like my civilian clothes. I think I look a little better in my civilian clothes; I would not be opposed to that. I tend to agree with him a little bit. Certainly, we are public servants. I see myself that way. One of the changes I made was my appointed staff and myself wear white shirts. That’s a sign of accountability, where accountability begins. I’m identifiable because of my uniform. I want people to look to me, and it should resonate; if you like me, I want you to like all the other officers. I have opportunities the average street cop doesn’t have. I get to meet with people like you and others in a nonconfrontational way. In a non-911 way. I can go to a luncheon, meet people and have a conversation, get to know Janeé the person, not just Janeé the police chief. My cops don’t have that opportunity. For somebody to see me in uniform and to know that I’m still a person, I care, I have feelings, I’m trying to do the best job I can. I’m not perfect, I wish I was, but I’m really trying to do what’s right. When people see that, they tend to put their guard down. There are times I do go to places where I don’t wear my uniform, because I think it’s important to see me as that person.
Q Do you think all the racists have been drummed out of the Minneapolis Police Department?
A I think that’s a pretty broad question. I would say we have mechanisms in place to hire the right people, and the more we diversify our organization, hire good people with good backgrounds. … Does that mean there wouldn’t be an incident? I can’t predict the future. But I can assure you I wouldn’t tolerate it. I know what it’s like be discriminated against, and it doesn’t matter why, it’s not a good feeling. I have to be able to prove things and people have the right to due process, but certainly if I found out, that would be unacceptable.
Q Were your officers under direction about their expressions, applauding or not applauding, during President Obama’s last trip to Minneapolis?
A No, they were not. That was them. Agree or disagree with politics, you should respect the office. Some people are nasty if they don’t like the political party somebody’s affiliated with.
Q Do you feel not living in the city of Minneapolis undermines your ability to do your job?
A Absolutely not. I did live in the city at one time. I couldn’t care more about the city, and I actually would like to move into the city. You know I have a 14-year-old. That’s a challenge. I care so much about the city, but it is nice sometimes to have the break, to not be the one responsible for absolutely everything, and I do. It’s my personality. I can’t do anything halfway, and so it’s best for my health and welfare to know that I can leave and have a five-minute reprieve from having to worry about everything going on in my neighborhood.
Q Does that uniform come in a skirt?
A Kind of funny. It doesn’t, but I think it should. Can I tell you the struggle women have taking off all this stuff to use the restroom? I was going to [redesign] the back to have a Velcro flap or something. I picture I’d be running down the street with my you-know-what hanging out [laughter]. There are some departments where the women wear skirts, but it’s just not practical. First of all, we’d freeze in this climate. It’s June, and it’s still winter! And you know, some of us have good knees; some of us don’t. And we don’t want to distract people, either — although when I was a young officer that was very beneficial. I could get somebody in the back of my car really quickly by saying, “Hey, come here a minute.” Whatever works.
Q Are the sidewalks in front of the Grand Hotel public or private?
A [Laughter] Most sidewalks are public.
Q The Yankees shooed me off those sidewalks.
A [Continued laughter] They better check the law.
Q When was your last speeding ticket?
A I never had a speeding ticket. Never had one. YOU’RE SURPRISED BY THAT! And it’s not that I was pulled over and somebody let me off.
Q So when did you last break the law by speeding?
A Probably my answer is the same as yours. I do try to be cognizant of my speed.
Q Ever flipped off another motorist?
A Oh yes, absolutely. Not on a daily basis; certainly not since I’ve been chief, because I’m too recognizable these days. I can get angry. I do try to take some deep breaths, but boy I get angry when people are multi-tasking when driving. Some people are shaving. EATING CEREAL WITH BOTH HANDS! READING THE PAPER with both hands! I’ve pulled people over for that. I’ve rolled down my window and said, “Are you trying to die today? Please pull over and finish your shaving.” I generally don’t give out tickets anymore. I use it as PR wake-up call. I think people need to wake up: “Do you realize you are in a deadly machine that can kill somebody, and you are taking it so lighting that you are SHAVING WITH BOTH HANDS?!”
Q Instead of flipping them off, may I suggest you give them the pinkie finger. That’s for when you don’t care enough to send the very best. People don’t know what it means and it’s not obscene.
A I like that! I’m going to use that.
Interviews are edited. C.J. is reachable at email@example.com and viewable on the Fox 9 “Buzz.”