When Janeé Harteau became Minneapolis police chief, she told the Star Tribune Editorial Board that her priorities for the department included transparency.
In fact, the motto “Commitment, Integrity, Transparency” appears on most correspondence from her office.
Earlier this month, she faced one of her first big tests in community relations. Two Minneapolis police officers were shot and two young men died following a police chase in the city’s Uptown area. The tragic events of May 10 left the community with questions about what happened and how the investigation was being conducted.
However, after Harteau held a news conference a week later to discuss the incident, too many of those questions remain unanswered.
It’s understood that police cannot reveal all the details of active investigations. Law enforcement cannot compromise their efforts to solve complex cases.
Still, the delays in releasing information on the Uptown incidents cast doubt. Why did it take five days or longer to take testimony from the officers directly involved? Why did a recent Star Tribune news story have to rely on sources other than the chief for an account of the events? That information, especially when civilian deaths are involved, should come in a timely manner directly from police administration.
During the incident, two officers were shot and two civilians died. Terrence Franklin, 22, died of multiple gunshot wounds at a Minneapolis house after being chased by police for 90 minutes. During what was described as an intense struggle in the basement of that house, Franklin allegedly grabbed at an officer’s gun and shot two other officers in the legs before being killed.
In a related incident 30 minutes later, 24-year-old Ivan Romero died when his motorcycle collided with a police vehicle that was en route to the house where Franklin and the officers were shot.
The administration and witnesses reported that police were using their flashing lights and sirens but drove through a red light at the intersection where the deadly crash occurred. Police and witnesses have provided differing takes on the speed at which the police SUV was traveling.
The officer involved in the crash was “visibly shaken,’’ according to the chief, and was not interviewed until five days later. And the cops in the basement had still not given their statements as of midday Tuesday — 11 days after the incident.
During a Tuesday interview with an editorial writer, Harteau said accuracy — not speed — is her goal with investigations. She said the timing of each case is different but that officers involved in such incidents are often the last to be interviewed after other witnesses.
That may be standard protocol. But it is especially critical for police to be forthcoming when citizens are killed or injured. In the Franklin shooting, the only known living witnesses are the officers who were in the basement, and the only weapons believed to have been fired were police-issue.
Harteau says she has confidence that her investigators and the county attorney will review all available evidence — not just the accounts from officers — but if necessary she will seek an outside review.
The questions being raised in the Franklin case should not be interpreted as allegations that police did something wrong. But because officers are public servants who can use deadly force to enforce the law, they must be held to higher standards when asked to explain their choices.
For the Minneapolis department, which has historically had issues with community relations, the transparency that Harteau wants to be part of the culture is especially important.
On the Uptown shootings and the related motorcycle accident, she could have moved more quickly to live up to the values she has emphasized since day one on the job.
An editorial of the Star Tribune.