The woman with arguably one of worst jobs in the city right now stood in a dingy gymnasium in north Minneapolis and tried to tell 32 new recruits — young, eager, optimistic — why they should be proud to be members of the Minneapolis Police Department, at a time when the badge is facing unprecedented mistrust and scrutiny.
Chief Janeé Harteau spoke about honor, about showing respect to the community they serve and about the harsh perceptions they will face the moment they hit the streets as Field Training Officers in the coming days.
“They hate the uniform,” she told them. “They don’t hate the person. They hate the chief, they don’t hate me as a person.”
When they respond to calls, Harteau told cadets, “think about how you would want your family to be treated in that situation.”
Then she warned them that they could get worn down by regular contact with criminals, and cautioned them against getting disillusioned and jaded. “Not everybody walking down the street is doing something wrong,” Harteau said.
It was a pep talk in the middle of a hurricane, but if any of the cadets were skeptical, it didn’t show.
Harteau had called me to a meeting because she didn’t like a column I wrote. After the speech to cadets, she talked about the turmoil surrounding the department, the federal investigation following the police shooting of unarmed Jamar Clark during a domestic abuse call, and about her role as chief in trying times.
It was widely rumored in the past few months that Harteau would not make it to a second term, a rumor she attributed to the fact that she has been recruited for other jobs. “I’ve never had any desire to go anyplace else, and I’ve turned down jobs already,” she said. Also, “the mayor had a history of not necessarily positive thoughts and relationships with the police department,” so there was an assumption Harteau might be replaced.
I asked Harteau if she has had second thoughts about those offers since the Clark incident and subsequent protests against her department.
“No. This is where I would want to be,” Harteau said. “It’s just like a cop, you don’t want to take the day off when something happens, you want to be there. And I feel I was best suited to be here when this happened. I think I have the relationships with the people in the community, I have the support of colleagues across the country. I have the tools at my disposal. I just need to be allowed to use them.
“A lot of people ask, why would you want to do this, and I say, I want a seat at the table,” Harteau said. “This is exactly the right time to be here.”
Some members of “the community” she refers to have been critical of Harteau. Some residents thought protesters should have been stopped from occupying the street outside the Fourth Precinct station, and protesters were angry when they were eventually evicted. Both claimed to be representing the community at large. So, who does the chief listen to?
“First you need to talk to people who actually live in the city of Minneapolis, and we have,” said Harteau. She mentioned community activists and members of boards and other “partners.”
“They are the community,” said Harteau, “and when something happens like this, they are the ones coming to us saying we support you.”
Others, including some of the protesters, come from outside the city, she said.
“They’re not from the community. They’re not people we deal with all the time. They’re ones who show up when something happens because they have an agenda … and I don’t think they truly have the best interests of everybody at heart. I don’t think they want us to ever get to a place where we have full support.”
When she meets with community groups, Harteau said she stresses going forward. “I think we need to acknowledge history, but we also have to acknowledge things we have improved on,” she said. “When an incident occurs, if you are going to go back and relive every incident that occurred, you’re not going to make progress. So we have to deal with the one in front of us. Let’s both agree we don’t like the way things have been. Now what do we do?”
Over the past few weeks, Harteau has appeared at news conferences beside Mayor Betsy Hodges, “but that doesn’t mean we always agree.”
Asked about her relationship with Hodges, Harteau paused briefly: “I think we have both learned a lot in the last month. I have learned a lot about her roles and responsibilities, I think when you go through a situation like this you either get stronger and develop some trust or [the relationship] breaks down. I think it’s stronger.”
Harteau said she understands why there is so much anger about police behavior. “I was appalled by the video I saw in Chicago, and some of the others,” she said. “That’s blatant, and where you need to look at tactics and somebody’s mind-set. Minneapolis handles half a million 911 calls a year. Our profession — we have a hell of a batting average.”
“We’re not always right,” said Harteau. “People don’t like it when I say that. I’m sorry [police union head] Bob Kroll, but we’re not always right. You can’t excuse everything that people do. What that does is ruin our integrity.”
Many have demanded the video of the Clark shooting be released, something that was out of the chief’s hands the moment the BCA took over the investigation. “I’m hoping the video gets released before this is over, I’d at least like the family to see it,” she said.
Whatever the outcome of the Clark case, “It’s going to be tumultuous, regardless,” said Harteau. “If exactly what has been said happened, I think people are going to be mad because they think we manufactured that and the investigation isn’t accurate. If it is something other than that, people will say, see, we told you. Either way, people are going to be very angry. I think this is one of those no-win situations.”
As for her own reputation, “You can’t be a leader and not get bruised,” Harteau said. “I believe that wholeheartedly. I’m OK with that.”