The latest reassignment of a popular onetime Minneapolis police inspector has triggered outcry from North Side residents and elected officials who are calling for his return to the streets.
Michael Friestleben was at the helm of the city’s Fourth Precinct for a little more than a year before he was suspended, then demoted to lieutenant and put in charge of the department’s community outreach program. Last month, he was pulled from that assignment and moved to heading the Crimes Against Children unit — a desk job with little public interaction.
The reasons why are unclear. Chief Janeé Harteau has never given a clear explanation for either move, which she called a “personnel matter,” citing state privacy laws.
That’s not enough for some, who say Friestleben, a 30-year department veteran, was a force of good on the North Side, mending relations where distrust of the police is the norm. They insist he should be back where he belongs.
“I’m asking you chief, to give me back my brother, give us back our brother, our lieutenant,” said K.G. Wilson, a longtime anti-violence advocate and member of the department’s community crisis-response team. “We are not just going to sit down and let our brother leave us, be taken away from us.”
Wilson was among dozens of people who filled a North Side church last month for a community meeting to support Friestleben. An online petition for his reinstatement to either of his previous positions garnered more than 500 signatures. At the community meeting, Friestleben thanked those attending for their support during a tumultuous year.
“You find out those might not have been your friends or they’re afraid to be your friends,” he said, according to a video of the meeting that was posted online. He added that he had received support not only from elected officials but also from North Side residents he had gotten to know over the years: “It’s not just me connecting, but you let me in.”
Friestleben’s community ties were tested after the police shooting of Jamar Clark, whose death prompted a three-week occupation outside Fourth Precinct headquarters.
A federal report released last month pointed to missteps in the city’s response to the protests. Without naming Friestleben, the report concluded that disagreements between department brass and Fourth Precinct leadership resulted in “inconsistent messaging, unnecessary confusion, and poor communication that significantly and negatively affected the response.”
North Sider Marque Jensen said he found it ironic that department leaders spoke publicly of mending community relationships while removing a popular commander like Friestleben.
“I thought that was just superpowerful, just that aspect: There were people who felt like they could never trust the police, and they met Mike and that changed their minds,” Jensen said this week.
Like others in attendance at the March 27 meeting, Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke about Friestleben’s ability to connect with North Side residents.
“This is a community that quite frankly oftentimes has filed many complaints,” Dehn, a mayoral candidate, said in an interview. “Yet this is an officer that despite all of those things … people are behind him as an individual officer.”
When asked whether Friestleben was being singled out by department officials, Dehn responded: “I don’t have the authority to tell the MPD what to do, but I think it was Oprah Winfrey who said that if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”
Harteau said this week that all officers are expected to be involved in the community, a departmentwide priority that was underscored last month with the promotion of Cmdr. Charles Adams to run the department’s community outreach efforts.
“While I appreciate the community’s support and partnership, there are many factors that influence personnel decisions, especially as they pertain to leadership, behavioral expectations and accountability,” Harteau said through a spokesperson. In response to a Twitter post last month calling for Friestleben’s reinstatement, Harteau wrote: “I understand your thoughts losing him but I assure you Mike has not been wronged. Much more to story.”
Council President Barb Johnson said she had spoken with the chief several times to convey her “disappointment with the move.”
“I think it’s kind of a wasted opportunity for improving police-community relations,” Johnson said, before adding that she didn’t want to diminish the promotion of Adams, a widely respected detective and lifelong North Sider.
Council Member Lisa Goodman said that while it isn’t her place to second-guess the chief’s decision on what amounted to an internal personnel matter, she felt she had to speak up. She recalled one incident a few summers back when Friestleben responded to the scene of a late-night shooting and spent several hours going door-to-door to reassure worried neighbors.
“Fritz has the ability to connect with people in the way that many in the police leadership are unable to,” she said. “Putting a cop like this behind a desk is like taking the air out of a beautiful balloon.”