The Minneapolis mayor and police chief insist they are working together to protect the city, despite a federal report that spotlighted “strain” in their relationship as a cause for police confusion in the aftermath of the Jamar Clark shooting.
The relationship between Chief Janeé Harteau and her boss, Mayor Betsy Hodges, will continue to be tested as the city works to build trust between police and people of color, and rolls out a plan this spring to curb a spate of late-night weekend shootings downtown and solve the tricky problem of nuisance crime on Hennepin Avenue.
It’s also a high-stakes mayoral election year, and selecting a chief to lead the police is one of the most important jobs of the mayor of Minneapolis. Hodges enters her fourth year as mayor amid skepticism that she and the chief have the close-knit relationship needed to adequately police a big city.
“A united front is really important and people don’t have the confidence that that’s what’s there,” said Barb Johnson, the president of the City Council.
To Hodges, the scrutiny of her relationship with Harteau is wearisome, tinged with sexism, and does not acknowledge the overall success of the city’s response to the Fourth Precinct occupation, or the progress she and Harteau have made in building trust between police and residents.
“Professional people build relationships by doing the work together,” Hodges said. “This expectation that somehow we are not building a strong relationship together if we’re not getting mani-pedis after brunch is ridiculous.”
The report on the precinct occupation, which the mayor and chief requested, commended the city for the peaceful end to the protests. That outcome was not achieved after fatal shootings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
But the report also alleged that a joint command center formed at City Hall during the crisis was not in sync with the police department. Harteau said last week “the mayor and I grew together in our roles” during the protests. She also acknowledged difficulties.
“When there are times that I wasn’t directly involved, it made my role as the leader of the police department challenging,” Harteau said. “There were multiple meetings, conversations, multiple leaders. … And that’s not just the mayor, let me be clear, that was city leadership, state leadership.”
A rough start
Former Mayor R.T. Rybak appointed Harteau as chief in 2012, and she was quickly at odds with Hodges, then a council member who represented southwest Minneapolis and a vigorous critic of the police department.
Hodges pushed for body cameras on police officers in October 2013 as she ran for mayor. Harteau rebuffed the idea, and when Hodges unveiled a test body camera at a news conference, nobody from the police department attended.
“It was a mess,” Hodges said last week. But the disagreement was resolved and police began using body cameras in July. “We’ve implemented body cameras fully on officers responding to 911 calls and I’ve done my best to never get out ahead of my chief again.”
In 2014, Hodges, by then the mayor, was embroiled in controversy for posing in a picture with a man who allegedly was making a gang sign. The spat drew national derision and became known as #pointergate, but combined with Hodges’ history with police, the incident angered some in the police department.
Still, Hodges reappointed Harteau in September 2015, despite persistent rumors she was looking for a replacement. She said last week she reappointed Harteau because they share a vision for police reform and public safety.
“I came in as mayor. She was already chief,” Hodges said. “Certainly it took some time to learn how to work well together.”
Hodges disputes some of what’s in the Department of Justice report. Documents obtained by the Star Tribune, for instance, confirm that Deputy Chief Medaria Arradondo and Public Information Officer John Elder were included in the joint information group at City Hall from the start, contrary to the report’s claim that the group initially “did not include” the Minneapolis Police Department.
But the report, which relies heavily on an internal police department account of the protests, lays bare police resentment of the way City Hall handled the protests. Hodges’ decision to negotiate an end to the protests rather than clear them by force was ultimately supported by Harteau, but it was unpopular among the rank and file.
“My perception is that the mayor tries to micromanage the police department too much and doesn’t give the chief enough space to do her job,” Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll said. “You had the mayor trying to please her political allies, many of whom were the protesters up there, and that’s why she was directing such a hands-off approach to the chief, because I don’t think the chief would’ve tolerated it for that long.”
‘A strong relationship’
Hodges says her respect for police officers deepened through the protests after the Clark shooting.
“We ask them to go into people’s worst moments over and over and over again, and we ask them to do a lot on behalf of our community,” she said.
And both women say their working relationship was refined by the crisis, despite disagreements.
“I would challenge any leaders to go through an event such as this and not have some tense moments,” Harteau said.
Despite “bumps along the way,” Hodges said, “the chief and I have a strong relationship, and it’s been built strong through strong work.”
Next month, downtown leaders are expecting the mayor to deliver a plan to address downtown safety, especially late-night shootings and nuisance crime on Hennepin Avenue.
Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council, said Harteau and Hodges seem to be working well together on downtown safety. But, he added, the same cannot be said for the mayor and the City Council.
“It’s not going to get in the way of having an effective plan that we’re ready to roll with,” Cramer said, “but the environment at City Hall is a bit of a minefield right now.”