Minneapolis Chief of Police Janee Harteau has had a rough couple of months.
There’s been high-visibility violent crime in the city’s North Minneapolis neighborhood; a police confrontation with a prominent Black activist; complaints from minority communities about police tactics; Mayor Betsy Hodges repeatedly calling for a change in police culture; and a recent Star Tribune story about the chief’s out-of-state travel.
And then there was her controversial decision to cancel an appearance at a community forum on Sept. 19, after she received credible evidence that a violent disruption was being planned.
All were widely reported in newspapers, websites and on Twin Cities radio and television stations. So it might be understandable that Harteau seems less than enamored with reporters these days.
“We continue to be frustrated and challenged, frankly, with local media,” Harteau said during her presentation to the city council’s budget committee Thursday.
And she may be planning to do something about it. As part of her efforts to increase department transparency and community engagement and outreach efforts, Harteau said, she might be looking for ways around the daily newspaper and TV news.
“We have to find ways to communicate and get our message out,” she said. “How do you get messages out? We have to figure that out.”
Harteau said she hopes to use social media more often — and more effectively — as a means of doing that. “We’re working on Twitter, Facebook. I have my own. We also have YouTube,” she said. “I’m going to start using that more so that people can get messages directly from the chief. You (council members) can have them. The community can have them. They can hear my comments in their entirety. I can do it fairly quickly and they’re in context.”
The question, at least for local reporters, is whether the chief see her social media efforts as a supplement for responding to media questions — or an alternative?
One of the MPD’s public information officers, Scott Seroka, said Harteau is not planning on using social media to avoid traditional news outlets, and will continue to be available to reporters.
“Chief Harteau has been one of the most accessible chiefs in the department’s history and will continue to engage with local media with tremendous regularity,” Seroka said. “Realizing that media outlets cannot always broadcast or print statements or answers in their entirety, she wants to increase her opportunities to speak directly to residents in an unfiltered and unedited fashion.”
“So nothing will change in regards to responding to local media,” he said. “What will change is the frequency in which she will speak directly to residents through social media channels.”
In her presentation to the committee, Harteau noted that the department had hired two civilian public information officers who had arranged some 2,400 media contacts and responded to “media requests from across the globe including several requests for information from network television and national publications.”
She also reported that the PIOs cultivated relationships with local reporters “that have resulted in an increase in positive news coverage.”