In her first six months on the job, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau has used posters, business cards and even blue cowbells to focus officers’ attention on her message of reform, a blend of corporate-world mottos and appeals for self-improvement that she calls “MPD 2.0”
It’s a work in progress, Harteau says, but one she believes will take the department in a new direction while winning public trust and lowering crime.
“If not me, who? If not now, when? Those are the questions I ask myself,” she said in a recent interview.
Harteau, moving quickly to follow through on her pledge to change the department, has gutted the MPD’s top leadership, shut down units she felt were unnecessary and instituted walking beats in some neighborhoods because she wants cops to have to get out of their cars and talk to people.
These mostly behind-the-scenes measures have been drowned out by a series of reputation-damaging cases for the department: Harteau has had to fire two officers accused of high-profile crimes — including one in which an officer was allegedly luring underage girls for sex — and she also faced a public grilling after two civilians were killed and two police officers shot in a police shooting and traffic collision.
The flurry of internal problems has put Harteau to an early test in her groundbreaking tenure as MPD’s first female chief, first gay chief and its first with American Indian ancestry.
“I learn every day,” she said in a recent interview. “I constantly am second-guessing myself. I put a lot of time and effort into every decision I make.”
Colleagues acknowledge the challenges. Watching Harteau manage the department should be a lesson in “How do you move a huge ship in a direction that you want to take it?” said Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell.
Harteau, 48, grew up in the department, fighting crime as a 22-year-old rookie cop and eventually taking a beat along Franklin Avenue S. with her partner, Minneapolis Police Sgt. Holly Keegel. The two now have a teenage daughter, Lauren, and live in the Minneapolis suburbs.
She rose through the ranks and was named assistant chief in 2010 under former Chief Tim Dolan, a sign she was being groomed to take over the department.
Within days of assuming the top job, Harteau swept out two deputy chiefs, four precinct inspectors and numerous other positions in the department’s top echelons. She also shut down the traffic unit and made changes to the Special Operations Division that she said would put more officers on the street.
She required all 840 sworn officers to attend the four-hour MPD 2.0 session, in which she asked officers to address each other by rank and look sharp in their uniforms. She told the officers to treat every encounter with the public as significant, to treat people the way they would expect family members to be treated.
Calls to the Minneapolis Police Federation seeking comment on Harteau’s performance so far were not returned.
A rough start
In the days after she announced MPD 2.0, one officer was jailed in the underage-sex case and another was jailed for nearly killing a man in a bar while off-duty. Harteau has since fired both.
She faced perhaps her biggest challenge yet after a police officer shot and killed Terrance Franklin, 22, following a foot chase through the Uptown neighborhood on May 10. Two officers were wounded by gunfire in the scuffle. Motorcyclist Ivan Romero was killed several blocks away when a police vehicle en route to the scene went through a red light.
Harteau’s commitment to transparency was called into question in the following days. The media and some members of the public cried foul as she declined to release the details about what happened, including who fired the shots and whether Franklin had a gun. Harteau has remained firm in her decisions.
“Two people died and two cops were almost killed. We should make sure we take our time with that, don’t you think?” she said in the interview.
Intense scrutiny isn’t new to the job. Early in his tenure as acting police chief in 2006, Dolan faced fallout after the Dominic Felder shooting, in which two police officers shot and killed a 27-year-old unarmed black man. Critics faulted Dolan at the time for not giving out enough details about the case. The city eventually paid $2.19 million to Felder’s family.
The police department’s investigation of the Franklin shooting was sent to the Hennepin County attorney’s office two weeks ago for review. It will eventually go to a grand jury for consideration of charges.
City Hall support
Harteau has enjoyed support from city officials, including City Council President Barbara Johnson, who thinks Harteau has given out as much information as she can about the May 10 incident. “When you have someone who is dead, careers are on the line. You better have the facts straight and not be responding to rumors and people screaming at you,” Johnson said.
Critics like Mel Reeves, a Minneapolis journalist and activist, said Harteau’s plans for reform sound hollow.
“Over the last 10 years there’s been a lot of different police chiefs, and they still end up paying out for misconduct,” he said. “I don’t expect it to change a lot under Ms. Harteau. You can’t develop trust if you’re killing innocent young men. You simply can’t do it.”
Even Harteau’s supporters say her biggest challenge will be her relationship with the public.
“She’s going to have to continue to reach out … not just talk about trust, but actually build those trusting relationships,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. “She’s in a very tough position.”
So far, Harteau has stepped out in public, posing for the cover of a local women’s magazine, using her Twitter account to post updates while patrolling with an officer (sample tweet: “Heading to customer trouble 18/univ turned into assault now #NEwithrealcops”) and taking part in occasional “walking lunches” on Nicollet Mall, where she clearly enjoys mingling and cracking jokes.
When she spotted two Minneapolis police officers on bike patrol, she stood between them for a picture. “Ah,” she said afterward, a smart-aleck tone in her voice, “we made it look like we like each other.”
The wisecracking public persona couldn’t be more unlike Dolan, who rarely courted the spotlight and once described his low-key demeanor as “boring.”
Yet Harteau seems to want even more connection with the public. During a recent interview in her office, she wondered aloud if a 24-hour live video feed of her office would help people understand how she makes decisions and lessen the outcry when she makes unpopular ones.
She compared it to her favorite TV show, “Blue Bloods,” in which Tom Selleck portrays the New York City police commissioner. Unlike him, Harteau makes her decisions without an audience, alone at her desk in City Hall.
And she’s not sure she likes it that way.
“Everybody gets to see Tom Selleck’s frustrations, and he’s in the office and his decisionmaking and all the things he goes through,” she said. “You like him because he’s got a really tough job, but who gets to see that from me?”