Editor’s note: A Hennepin County Grand Jury Thursday declined to indict any Minneapolis police officers involved in the May 10 shooting death of Terrance Franklin. The controversial death of the young African-American father — and the refusal of police and city officials to release details in the case — sparked community anger and protests throughout the summer. The UpTake sat down with Police Chief Janee Harteau recently to discuss the troubled relations between Minneapolis’ police and its people, and her plans to improve the situation in the wake of incidents in which off-duty officers used racial epithets while misbehaving in public. Video of The UpTake’s full interview with the chief may be found at the end of this story.
It’s been a rough first year for Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who took over as chief in January. With numerous protests spurred by the death of Terrance Franklin, who was shot by police in May, to recent incidents involving racial slurs by Minneapolis Police Officers in Green Bay and Apple Valley — including homophobic remarks about Harteau, a lesbian — the 48-year-old chief has her hands full.
Harteau joined the force under Chief Tony Bouza in 1987. She’s the first woman to hold the title of Police Chief in Minneapolis, in addition to having Anishinabe heritage. She describes herself as having empathy, and an ability to understand negative experiences, because she’s experienced it herself both from people within the department (Harteau filed a discrimination and harassment suit earlier in her career), in the media and people on the street.
From the very start, Harteau has made changes in the department — she calls her desired version of the department’s culture MPD 2.0 — including leadership changes from the top down and changes in the ways officers deal with the public. “Change takes time,” Harteau says. “Culture change takes three to five years. This expectation of change occurring over night is — I’d love that, but that’s unrealistic. Trust gets built over time. People have to trust me.”
When The UpTake first asked Harteau to describe the nature of the problem between the police department and the community, she responded, “What problem are you speaking of?” Then, she went on to describe a “perception problem,” in which the community doesn’t necessarily know a lot of the things that the police are doing.
“One of my priorities has been communication,” she says. “I think it is a perception problem, but I also think it is a real lack of trust.” Harteau wants to find out why some in the community don’t trust the police, and what the police can do to gain that trust. “There’s this large group of people that have enormous trust for the police; they’ve had good encounters,” she says. “And then there’s another group of people who have a lack of trust, and some of them can’t quantify it. They say it’s because of what they see or read, but not necessarily personal experiences. Then other people, it’s based on experience. So that’s what we’re trying to do is make those connections.”
For Harteau, when an incident involving Police Behaving Badly crops up — like the ones in Green Bay and Apple Valley — she hopes the community will know with certainty: “That’s the exception and not the rule. Boom. That’s it.”
Boom, as in: The chief will lower the boom on the cops who deserve it. She points to the fact that the force has a lot of graying cops on it who will be retiring in the near future and implies that her plans for a departmental culture change are hinged on the future officers who will replace them. They are likely to be far more diverse than the cops they will replace, and to look far more like the population they protect and serve. But that’s the future. Harteau is on the hot seat now.
Next: Anonymous Sources
Harteau’s communication plan involves reaching out to the community in various ways, including the department’s Facebook page, so citizens don’t always have to rely on the media to get the message out. She says she also has a problem with the Star Tribune and other media outlets reporting information provided by anonymous sources within the department — including recent stories about the Franklin shooting that purported to provide damning information about the dead suspect while officials were refusing to release police reports on the incident.
“I realize the media has their job to provide information, but when you have anonymous sources, you don’t know if that’s true or not,” she says. Harteau calls anonymously-sourced stories “damaging” because she can’t undo things that have already been said, especially when they’re not true, and even if they are true, they need to be coming from the right people — officers and administrators in charge of the cases. “I think it’s a disservice to the officers involved in the shooting and I think it’s a disservice to the Franklin family, and Franklin himself,” she told us about the leaked stories. “It’s wrong. There’s no place for that.”
Harteau doesn’t know who’s been leaking information to the press. “Anytime somebody leaks information that’s part of an active investigation — if I can find out who you are, I will discipline you to the fullest authority I have and if I can charge you with a crime, I will,” she says. “That is absolutely unacceptable, and I’ve been very vocal about that with members of this department. I have been trying to maintain the integrity of the investigation, allowing the facts to come out.”
Changing the Culture
We pressed Harteau to outline what the department itself can do not only to change perceptions, but to change the culture of the force itself. Harteau’s response was that while the department is good at making arrests and doing public safety, it needs to improve its connections to the community. “It’s about (bringing) community policing to a whole other level,” she says. “I’m looking for every opportunity I can within an officer’s shift also to be able to have those times to connect, because we know every time I go out no matter where I go — when people get to see officers and they interact with them outside of 911 calls specifically — they have better respect and trust and comfort level, because they get to know people.”
The department does have bad apples in the ranks, Harteau freely acknowledges. She says you deal with the bad apples in two ways — training and discipline. “It’s no different than being a parent. You need to set the tone, you need to set the vision. You need to set the expectations, which I’ve done,” she says.
Like her predecessor, Chief Timothy Dolan, Harteau has an advisory council that includes people from the previous administration as well as people who Harteau has developed relationships with, including members of the Civil Rights Department and youth members. “For me as chief, I wanted a sounding board. I wanted them to be involved, I wanted a wide spectrum on the community, representation where I could share information,” she says.
At the request of members of the council, Harteau has kept the meetings closed, rankling media and some community members who believe the meetings should be open to the public. But in order for the members to speak freely, Harteau insists on holding the meetings behind closed doors, although she says advisory council members are free to speak with media themselves. The council’s four committees include Community Engagement, Training, Hiring and Recruitment, and Accountability. That last one was at first called “Discipline,” but was expanded to include issues of use of force, discipline and process. “It’s never just one thing,” Harteau says. “But are there union restraints to what we do? Are our processes broken? Do we need to add training?”
Those seemed like rhetorical questions. Harteau’s answers seem to be Yes, Yes, Yes.
There are currently 840 members on the force, Harteau says, and she’d like to increase that number to 850 at a bare minimum. Harteau is still in the process of re-organizing and trying to streamline hiring processes, but says she’d love to have a force of 950 officers — the department’s high-water mark — as once was the case.
The department’s minority make-up leaves much to be desired, with only 20 percent of the ranks made up of minority officers. According to the 2010 census, Minneapolis has a minority population of about 40 percent. “It’s the highest it’s ever been,” Harteau says about the number of minority cops in the department. “But it’s not enough.”
In order to increase the number of officers of color, Harteau has brought back the cadet program, where someone with a two-year or four-year college degree can receive abbreviated training. Harteau mentioned several times the department’s “aging” demographics, which she believes will offer an opportunity to hire a new diverse workforce as people retire, but also leaves her the challenge of passing on the expertise and experience of older officers.
As for women, there are only 15 percent in Minneapolis’s department, a number that actually has declined in recent years, mirroring national trends. “We’re losing women,” Harteau says. “In your traditional ways of hiring officers, women aren’t getting into law enforcement anymore. I don’t know why that is.
“Some people say, ‘Fifteen percent? That’s really good, isn’t it?’ I say, well there’s only two genders! If law enforcement is looked at again more like, ‘I’m helping, I’m doing something good in the world,’ we might bring women back.”
Harteau hopes that as a female police chief, she can act as a role model to attract more women to the department.
Full video of Chief Janee Harteau’s interview with The UpTake is posted below: