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Officer's death turns Minneapolis Police Chief Harteau's 'big day' into 'tough day'

It should have been a day for big smiles and congratulations and celebrations, and there was some of that. But when the new police chief stepped forward to speak to the Minneapolis City Council that had just approved her appointment, she had to fight for words.

“It’s a tough day,” said Police Chief Janee Harteau Friday morning. “It’s a good day but a tough day.”

The black band around her gold badge explained why this articulate person, this tough cop, this first woman chief had to fight for words.

“It’s a tough day because last night an officer was killed in the line of duty, basically murdered in cold blood,” Harteau told a room full of reporters and council members after the vote. She was referring to Cold Spring Police Officer Tom Decker, 31, who was killed during what is being described as an ambush.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a part of this police department, or any police department, it’s a family member,” she said.  “It’s a tough one.”

The standing ovation that followed the council vote was nice, the public hearing where neighborhood folks joined community bigwigs in singing her praises earlier in the week had been flattering, as was the line of reporters who have trooped through her office in quest of quotes.

Janee Harteau
Janee Harteau

Mayor R.T. Rybak said she was the only person he considered for the chief’s job.

Council Member Robert Lilligren said she is the only police chief he’s seen at a neighborhood meeting in 10 years.

Council Member Meg Tuthill could have just voted “aye” for the nomination, like everyone else, but instead said, “With great pleasure, aye.”

And one reporter asked “the first woman” question one more time, despite an earlier news conference when she said she really didn’t want to have that conversation any more.

“I want people to see that you can achieve things despite some obstacles in your way,” she said, “I stand on my merits.”

In case you haven’t been paying attention, she is the city’s first woman police chief, having worked her way up through the ranks. She is of French Canadian and American Indian heritage. She and her domestic partner have been together for 24 years, and their daughter is a teenager.

She is anxious to get on with the business of running the police department, to establish a permanent Training and Professional Development Division and to get “the right people in the right places to move forward.”

The official swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in the rotunda at Minneapolis City Hall.

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