A veteran Minneapolis police lieutenant known for his emphasis on community engagement and outreach retired this week after 29 years on the force.
Michael Friestleben, 55, joined the department in 1988 and had served as inspector of north Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct; he was credited with soothing relations in neighborhoods where tensions were high over police practices. His widely publicized demotion from the post last year, for his mishandling of a stalking case involving one of his officers, prompted protests from community members, who argued that he was being punished for standing up to police brass.
By day’s end Friday, several local Facebook pages were filled with postings about “Officer Mike,” with commenters describing him as compassionate and dedicated in giving of his time to community members, many of whom had his cellphone number.
Lisa Clemons, a former city cop, posted that Friestleben’s calm leadership was instrumental in easing tensions after the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark and the protests that ensued.
“He was able to communicate with those who were angry and traumatized,” Clemons wrote.
His retirement, K.G. Wilson wrote, will leave a void on the North Side. “We are going to miss you on the block dear Friend & community servant,” said the longtime activist.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and assistant chief Mike Kjos, under whom Friestleben served in north Minneapolis, both declined to comment through a spokesman on Friday. Friestleben didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message.
After taking over as inspector in 2015, Friestleben’s commitment to community policing, along with a relentless work ethic, won him praise from police colleagues, community activists and City Hall.
According to records released last spring, Friestleben was demoted for violating department policy by waiting months to report a man who stalked a female officer he supervised. The nearly 300 pages of witness statements, phone logs, timelines and other documents — some of which are redacted — were obtained by KARE-TV through a data practices request.
A review panel also faulted Friestleben for discussing an open internal investigation involving the stalking incident with the officer, who is unnamed. He was later stripped of his command and demoted to lieutenant.
A federal report released earlier this year pointed to missteps in the city’s response to the protests in the wake of Clark’s death. Without naming Friestleben, the report concluded that disagreements between department brass and Fourth Precinct leadership resulted in “inconsistent messaging, unnecessary confusion, and poor communication that significantly and negatively affected the response.”
After Friestleben’s demotion, he was put in charge of the department’s community engagement team before being transferred again to the domestic assault unit, where he remained until Arradondo moved him to the 5th Precinct.