Minneapolis' Janeé Harteau breaking the mold as chief of police

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 28, 2012 - 9:11 AM

Minneapolis' incoming chief, Janeé Harteau, promises new faces and structural changes, and vows to be front and center before the public.

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Incoming Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, in her office Tuesday at City Hall, says her key values are “commitment, integrity and transparency.”

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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The report of possible gunfire in an office building had set downtown Minneapolis on edge when the city's incoming police chief, Janeé Harteau, stepped in front of the news cameras to say it was a false alarm.

As in that tense day earlier this month, Minneapolis citizens are going to see more of their top cop, Harteau promises.

"They will know I am chief, because I will be delivering the bad news," she said in an interview last week. "I will stand by the decisions that are made. When there is a significant event, even like the alleged shots fired at Target, I will be standing there to tell them that's everything is OK."

Harteau's "out front" approach will be a departure from her low-key predecessor Tim Dolan, who frequently let subordinates speak for the department. On Wednesday, Harteau will appear before a City Council committee, but her nomination has encountered no significant opposition since Mayor R.T. Rybak announced it this spring.

A Minneapolis cop for 25 years, Harteau, 48, gets a strong endorsement from grizzled department veterans and from police union president, John Delmonico, who says the difference between Harteau and Dolan will be "like night and day."

"With Dolan, you didn't always know where you stood," said Delmonico. "I think sometimes he shot from the hip, and I think with Janeé, you always know where you stand with her, she always makes well-thought-out decisions."

Harteau's nomination is expected to get approved by the council Friday and she'll be sworn in next Tuesday.

To combat a rise in violent crime, up 12 percent in October compared to last year, she wants to continue focusing on "micro hot spots" where crimes are most likely to occur and on the individuals most likely to commit them, she said. A second priority, she said, will be dealing with "systemic issues" by partnering with schools, social service agencies and other entities to work with juveniles before their problems become police issues.

She already plans structural changes in the department, creating six commander positions and phasing out six police captain posts, according to council documents. She wants to expand training and will bring new personnel into the top ranks.

Asked if she plans to clean house, she said she was reviewing every police unit and function "and when it comes to creating a team, I'm looking at those people whose strengths complement mine, what talents I need in those positions and those who share the same values as I."

Her key values, she said, are "commitment, integrity and transparency." With nearly two-thirds of the force over age 40, the department's biggest challenge, in Harteau's view, is hiring "the best and the brightest" as a slew of retirements approaches.

Harteau already presents a new face. For the first time in the department's 145-year history, the police chief will be a woman. She's also in a committed relationship with another woman in the department, police Sgt. Holly Keegel. The pair shared a squad car as patrol officers together in their earlier years on the force, writing two small books on safety issues, and were sometimes referred to as "Cagney & Lacey," after the characters from a 1980s television police series.

Keegel calls Harteau "very compassionate" and also very passionate about her police work. "Janeé is very hard on herself and does not make decisions lightly," Keegel said in a statement. "She can truly see all sides."

In 1996, Keegel and Harteau filed a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint with the state Human Rights Department. Harteau said officers were interrupting police radio transmissions she and Keegel were making so they could not be heard.

"This was a job I loved," Harteau says, "and I can handle any type of judgment or teasing. People don't have to like me and they don't have to agree with me, but when people interfere with the ability for me to do my job, that's where I drew the line. So it became a matter of public safety."

In an interview in her City Hall office, she was asked how tough it was to be a lesbian on the police force, Harteau said she didn't want to be identified that way. "I don't want to be put in a box," she said. "I absolutely fell in love with my best friend... so I have a domestic partner. We've been together for 24 years. And we have a 13-year-old beautiful daughter."

"I absolutely would identify with the GLBT and certainly will support them in any way and be a role model, but...you'll be hard pressed to put me in a box in any category, whether it be ethnicity, gender, the type of police chief or police officer I was."

Harteau is one-sixteenth Chippewa and is a registered member of the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin, although she never lived there. Her parents divorced, and she, her two sisters and mother made a home for themselves in Duluth. She got a law enforcement degree from Hibbing Community College in 1986, applied to be a Minneapolis cop and was hired in 1987. "I was a small town girl who wanted a big city," she says.

The rookie impressed then narcotics commander Harry Baltzer. "She had such a cool head," he said. "She was a cop's cop. She had guts."

Jeff Grates, who oversaw a narcotics unit, recalls listening to Harteau, working undercover and wearing a wire, sitting in a dealer's car and negotiating to buy drugs as the dealer tried to make some moves on her.

"No, no," he says Harteau told the dealer. "You bring me the dope." She could have asked for help, but didn't, the deal was made and the dealer arrested. "I wouldn't have a problem with her backing me up, anytime," Grates says.

Harteau must navigate thorny issues such as incidents of police misconduct that dogged Dolan's administration and led to costly legal payouts. The City Council voted in September to scrap the Civilian Review Authority, which reviewed allegations of police misconduct. It was replaced by a unit that combines police and civilian investigators.

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, doubts that much will change. She said Harteau was "very close with Dolan" and predicts "it's going to be a continuation of the failure to discipline police officers. I wished they had looked at someone from the outside instead of this heir apparent."

About the Civilian Review Authority, Harteau said "what [was] in existence wasn't working and I will do everything in my power to ensure that this [new] process works, is effective and it's fair for all involved."

"There's two ways to change behavior, one's through training and one's through discipline," she said. "By the time we get to the discipline point, something's broken...So my goal is [that] training and professional development should be much larger."

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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