Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges learned that Police Chief Janeé Harteau would appoint Lt. John Delmonico as inspector of the North Side’s Fourth Precinct 90 minutes before police announced the decision.
The mayor urged Harteau to come to her office for a meeting, and Harteau declined, according to sources with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
Finally, Hodges said that either Harteau needed to undo the appointment of Delmonico, or Hodges would undo it herself. Harteau left the task to the mayor, and Hodges issued a statement late Wednesday overruling the decision.
The internal disconnect and the mayor’s public repudiation of the chief’s decision were the latest instances of a complicated, tense relationship between the leader of Minneapolis and the head of its police department. While mayors and police chiefs are often at odds, the relationship between the two city leaders has been tested since Hodges took office, with conflicts involving race and policing helping define the mayor’s tenure.
Harteau said in a statement Thursday that she was “disappointed” in Hodges’ decision.
“As chief, it is my responsibility to make personnel decisions that I see best for the operations and management of the department, and best serve our community,” the statement said. “If I must make a new appointment, I will work to select a person who exudes the same strengths and qualities as Lt. Delmonico, and I will continue to look to him as a leader in this department.”
Both Harteau and Hodges declined requests for interviews.
Delmonico, 60, learned late last week that he would be getting the promotion. Harteau’s decision drew a firestorm of criticism not just from the mayor, but from activists and community organizers on the North Side.
While few question Delmonico’s leadership and reputation for fighting crime, critics say the inspector’s post should be filled by an officer with stronger community ties. The two most recent inspectors on the North Side — Michael Friestleben and Mike Kjos — were popular figures, even in neighborhoods where police are viewed with distrust.
Anthony Newby, director of the group Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said Delmonico lost the trust of black North Siders during “Pointergate,” when he accused the mayor of flashing gang signs while posing for a photo with a man named Navell Gordon. Delmonico was then the head of the police union.
“It just shows terrible instincts. It just shows he’s not afraid to slander and damage the community in the name of law enforcement,” Newby said. “Especially coming out of the Fourth Precinct and the occupation, it’s important at this moment in particular that whoever leads the Fourth Precinct has a deep connection to the North Side community. That person is not Delmonico.”
The job is considered among the toughest in the department. The new inspector would be asked to regain the trust of wary residents and rebuild morale in a precinct that serves some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods and was besieged by protestors for 18 days following the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark.
Delmonico, who worked on the streets with Harteau as far back as the 1980s and headed the police union from 1999 to 2015, has been a night supervisor in the precinct for the past eight months. Over that period, violent crime is down, gun removals from the streets are up and more community engagement efforts have been implemented, he said.
“It’s a better place than when I got there, and I will continue to make it a better place,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Delmonico was a key player in the city’s Police Community Relations Council, a group developed in 2003 that met monthly to discuss police conduct and high-profile crimes. The relationships he developed with people from the black, Hispanic, gay and mental health communities remain intact, he said.
Delmonico said the chief never mentioned possible blowback from the mayor when he and Harteau discussed the job.
The mayor didn’t say Wednesday that “Pointergate” was a reason she objected to Delmonico. For his part, Delmonico said Thursday he thought they had put that behind them. He has run into Hodges several times and things seemed good between them, he said. He said he wished she had spoken with him if she had concerns or questions about his policing.
Delmonico was going to be officially appointed to his new position in August, which would have allowed him time to shadow the inspector and ease into a smooth transition, he said.
“But in two days I’ve gone from hearing congratulations to condolences,” he said.
Harteau told Delmonico on Thursday she still supports his promotion to inspector, and hasn’t decided what to do next, he said.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, criticized Hodges for “continual meddling.”
“At a time when we need to compete to attract and retain the best people to serve our community, her misguided decisions only further erode officer morale and community trust, leaving us all to wonder, ‘Who’s really in charge?’ ” Kroll said.
The sometimes uneasy relationship between Hodges and Harteau is not unprecedented in Minneapolis. Former Mayor R.T. Rybak never clicked with the police chief he inherited, Robert Olson, and tried to fire him and let his contract expire in 2004.
Hodges’ decision to override Delmonico’s appointment may be hard for Harteau and the police to swallow, but it’s within her authority, said Ronal Serpas, who served as police chief in Nashville, New Orleans and ran the Washington State Patrol before he became a professor of criminology at Loyola University New Orleans
“I respect what the chief’s going through, having been a chief myself, but at the end of the day the people of Minneapolis elect a mayor and the city charter gives her the authority to do this,” Serpas said.
William Terrill, a criminal justice professor at Arizona State University, took a different view. Even if mayors are allowed to make personnel decisions at the precinct level, he said, it’s a rare step.
“My first gut reaction is that this is very odd, this is not the norm,” Terrill said. “For the mayor to get involved in that level of assignment is a pretty clear indication that there’s something greater going on here, and it certainly doesn’t play well in terms of helping foster better communication and a better relationship between the police chief and the mayor.”
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.