As young street cops in Minneapolis' Third Precinct, Janeé Harteau and her partner, Holly Keegel, were called out to investigate a man brandishing a gun.
They recognized him and braced for the worst, but he surrendered without a fight. The reason, he told them, was simple: They had treated him with dignity, even when they handcuffed him and took him to jail, the chief recalled.
"If you look statistically, at not just uses of force but accusations of excessive force, they are very seldom at the hands of female officers," Harteau said. "Women do tend to use verbal skills, communication — that's the fundamental core of de-escalation."
The Minneapolis Police Department is rethinking its use-of-force policies, while stepping up its efforts to recruit female officers. Officers are now being trained in alternative ways to control violent or uncooperative suspects before resorting to physical means.
Both efforts occurring simultaneously is no coincidence.
Women remain underrepresented throughout the department.
Today, Harteau, who rose through the ranks to become the city's first-ever female chief, is part of a rather exclusive club: women leading big-city police departments. As with her counterparts in Oakland, Calif., and Seattle, Harteau's appointment four years ago was hailed as a milestone, challenging long-held assumptions about what law enforcement should look like.
Kris Arneson served as Harteau's No. 2 for the past three years until her retirement this month. And Keegel, Harteau's former partner and ex-wife, heads the Violent Crimes Enforcement Team, an elite unit that specializes in tracking down violent offenders.
While the department has grown by about 60 sworn officers since 2006, it has the same number of female cops as it did a decade ago: 127.
The department is hoping to change that with recruitment efforts geared toward women. A YouTube video launched this month titled "Women of the MPD" features the multifaceted lives of the women on the force.
"My badge only tells you so much about me," one officer says as a montage of cops talk about their lives, from coaching and running a restaurant to serving in the Army National Guard.
They're mothers, daughters and sisters, the officers emphasize, but they are tough, mentally and physically — the video bolsters this point with footage of female officers making arrests, interacting with the community and saving a suicidal man.
"It was and still is a male-dominated profession, but some of the attitudes are starting to change," said Catherine Johnson, one of two female precinct inspectors. Most of the time, women bring better conflict-resolution abilities and a less aggressive style to police work, she said.
But, she added, just as male officers can be effective communicators, female cops can be as aggressive as the job requires.
A 2002 National Center for Women and Policing report found that male officers are two to three times more likely to be named in a complaint of excessive force.
In de-escalation training, recruits are taught to back away from potential threats if necessary. Officers gain time to assess the situation and make better decisions.
The Rev. David Couper, a longtime Twin Cities cop who later became police chief in Madison, Wis., said female officers bring a more nuanced approach to crime-fighting, crucial to improving relations in minority neighborhoods where some residents have long been distrustful of anyone with a badge.
"If you want to handle the excessive use of force problem today, the obvious answer would be to hire more women," Couper said. "There's a lot less testosterone floating around in the place. It's calming where there are women."
Biased hiring policies
Until the early 1990s, the Minneapolis Police Department was dominated by men, thanks to hiring policies that discriminated against women. In the 1960s and 70s, female candidates were required to have a four-year college degree in psychology or sociology, while their male counterparts only needed to have finished high school. This contributed in part to a shortage of female cops.
Many endured harassment but were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be branded as troublemakers and passed over for promotions. Harteau and Keegel eventually filed an internal affairs complaint alleging a hostile work environment.
"Unfortunately most women who experienced the things that Holly and I did, they leave the profession," Harteau said.
Not everyone's experience has been the same.
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake, one of three female sheriffs in the state, said that in her 28-year career she has never faced negativity from colleagues because of her gender.
"Throughout my entire career I have been very fortunate and have never felt I was treated any differently because I was female," Lake said.
Despite changes, female representation on the Minneapolis force is still relatively low.
Sixteen percent of the department's 871 officers are women, compared to 2006, when the city's 809-member police force included 127 women — about 16 percent. Just four of the 35 cadets and recruits now going through the police academy are women, officials say.
However, MPD's numbers still top state and national averages. About 11.6 percent of the nation's officers are women. And only 11.5 percent of Minnesota's police officers are women.
Harteau said the YouTube video's goal in part is to dispel the notion that a career in law enforcement precludes anyone from also raising a family.
Michelle Phelps, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, said that over the years women believed that they had to stow away their femininity in order to climb the department ranks.
Even when departments tried to recruit more women, Phelps said, those efforts were sometimes undermined by training that rewarded aggression and "links hyper-masculinity with policing."
Using metrics like the number of arrests an officer made, Phelps said, further alienated female recruits.
"How do we get line-officer buy-in to progressive police reform when it is seen so gendered, when it is seen as being too soft?" she said.
Nathan Gove, executive director of the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), said that although the POST board is not a hiring agency, it wants to hire an outreach coordinator to "recruit and improve strategies from underrepresented populations" — including more female officers.
Police union President Lt. Bob Kroll said that many of the reforms aimed at developing "softer" skills grew out of a federal report released while President Barack Obama was in office. Those same practices may change again under the Trump administration, Kroll said.
"I wouldn't attribute that to women in leadership positions, so much as the academic types," he said of the recent focus on de-escalation. "When you look at her and you look at [St. Paul Police Chief] Todd Axtell, there's just not a helluva lot of difference between the two."
Pushing gender or academic accomplishments aside, Harteau said finding alternatives to traditional practices is, at its base, motivated by the desire to improve policing.
"I think this is about being effective. And I would challenge Bob Kroll and others who say the tactics of the past are effective," Harteau said. "Because when I started in 1987, crime was its all-time highest."