Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau on Wednesday defended her decision to pull out of a recent community meeting and vowed to be deeply engaged with residents and critics.
“We need to provide platforms and opportunities for people to speak,” Harteau said at a north Minneapolis news conference. “We will continue to do that.”
Harteau spoke amid lingering criticism for not meeting with concerned residents and then for abruptly canceling her appearance at a potentially testy gathering last week. It also came after a string of shootings left at least three people dead and 16 wounded across the city, including a triple shooting early Tuesday at a south Minneapolis gas station.
Minneapolis police released a two-page handout showing the steps they have taken to reach out to the community and quell violence around the city.
Police have convened safety summits, paid overtime to beef up patrols in areas where crime has spiked, improved youth outreach and taken steps to get police out into the communities more. The department is also scrambling to hire new officers after a large wave of retirements depleted its ranks.
Harteau said her decision to bow out of a Sept. 18 community meeting on police accountability came after several tips on social media that the event could devolve into a nasty, even physical confrontation with police.
The chief said she worried that the possibility of a few passionate activists would have drowned out residents with their own concerns and questions.
She wanted to avoid a situation where “people who want to be heard don’t get heard because the same people dominate the conversation,” she said. “I want to hear from many people, and not just a few.”
After facing questions around City Hall, the chief sent an e-mail to council members earlier in the week explaining her position.
“I was informed that there was a plan for people to be disruptive with agitators which included engaging officers into a physical confrontation and potentially charging the stage,” Harteau wrote. “After a risk assessment with my staff, I made the decision that dismissing the information and continuing as planned was simply a risk I was not willing to take.”
But some Minneapolis officials were not convinced the social media posts amounted to threats.
Council Member Cam Gordon, who was one of the chief organizers of the community meeting, said he was aware of many of the same threats.
“It wasn’t clear to me that we should cancel the meeting,” Gordon said. “From me and what I base my decisions on, I didn’t think there was enough credible threat to me and to others attending to justify canceling it.”
Harteau told council members that she did not bow out of the meeting simply because she didn’t want to face tough critics.
“I did not cancel due to a fear of being yelled at, protests or people being expressive,” she said, noting several testy meetings with residents after police shootings or allegations of racism on the force. “Seldom as a chief do I attend meetings where everything is good and people are happy.”
She said she recommended the forum be postponed, but organizers declined to change the date.
Harteau did not announce any new breakthroughs in the recent round of sometimes brazen gun violence, which has left neighbors rattled but yielded few suspects or arrests.
According to community leaders, Tuesday’s shooting may have been in retaliation for the death of an alleged member of the Bogus Boys gang, who was the apparent target of a gunman who opened fire inside a crowded downtown nightclub in August.
One of the victims was in serious condition at Hennepin County Medical Center, while two others were being treated for less serious injuries, said police spokesman John Elder. He declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation.
Wednesday night, community members gathered for a forum on easing racial tensions. Attendees said they appreciated the police and city officials who did attend.
The forum, which drew about 80 residents to the Urban League, was hosted by Council Member Blong Yang, chair of the Public Safety Committee.
One speaker commended the panel, which included police Inspector Michael Kjos, who commands the Fourth Precinct, and City Council Member Andrew Johnson, “who had the courage to take it from the community.”