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‘The mayor and I are in lockstep’: a Q&A with Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau

After an eventful couple of months, the police chief talks about morale, the mayor — and Pointergate. 

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau: "It’s about quality of life, it’s about safe neighborhoods, not just how many crimes there are."
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

On December 4, Janeé Harteau will mark her second anniversary as head of the Minneapolis Police Department. A 27-year veteran of the department who started as a beat cop and rose through the ranks, Harteau was appointed by former Mayor R.T. Rybak to a three-year term in 2012, when she became the department’s first female chief.

Almost immediately, Harteau unveiled a reform agenda and replaced much of the top brass with new assistant and deputy chiefs. Since Betsy Hodges became mayor in January, Harteau has worked closely with the new mayor to continue implementing changes inside the department. 

But also from the beginning, Harteau has been required to manage a series of crises, only the latest of which was the incident known as #pointergate. Earlier this week, MinnPost sat down with Harteau for a Q&A about her tenure as police chief so far: 

MinnPost: You’ve been Minneapolis police chief for almost two years now. Have you fixed everything yet?

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Chief Janeé Harteau: Absolutely not. We’re just getting started.  

MP: When you took the job, you announced a department reform agenda you titled MPD 2.0. If you had only the length of an elevator ride to describe that plan, how would you do so? Ding.

JH: Ding. First and foremost, it is us becoming a better version of ourselves. We are now a values-driven department, with our core values being commitment, integrity and transparency. And we achieve that by creating a culture of accountability. Ding.

MP: That was a short building. 

JH: Well I could elaborate.

MP: You might get your chance. Also at that time, in January of the next year, you were quoted in the Star Tribune saying you would measure your success by looking at crime data, the degree of “public trust” in the department and on employee “engagement and morale.” Using those measures, how do you think you have done so far?

JH: As far as crime, we are maintaining those 30-year lows. One crime is too many as far as I’m concerned, but when we gauge ourselves based on years, then we are moving in the right direction. I’m hoping to end the year even, if not below, in both violent and Part 1 crime [arson, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft]. But just numbers alone don’t tell the story. So it’s about quality of life, it’s about safe neighborhoods, not just how many crimes there are. Because one crime could have a dire impact in a neighborhood, depending on what kind of a crime it is. 

The second was public trust, and that happens in a number of ways. That first and foremost starts with me and how much community engagement I have. I’m very proud of my record in community engagement. If there were more hours in a day or days in a week, I could do more. I connect with anybody who’s ever asked. I reach out to every group I possibly can. I believe in building relationships and partnerships well in advance. I’ve been doing it my entire career. I didn’t wait to be chief to develop those relationships. But it is also in everyday encounters with people in my department, in big ways and small ways. From answering the telephone to when you interact with somebody during event, when you’re on a call, anytime someone has an interaction with a Minneapolis police officer.

“I’m very proud of my record in community engagement. If there were more hours in a day or days in a week, I could do more. I connect with anybody who’s ever asked.”

What I’m trying to do is create opportunities for officers to connect with community outside of a crisis, because oftentimes we see people at their worst and their response to us isn’t always best because they’re at their worst. And officers don’t have an opportunity to really let their guard down to build relationships and have conversations. That’s why I started cops out of the cars, having neighborhood beats. We did a good job having beat officers where there are businesses but now we need them in the neighborhoods.

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Last, employee engagement and morale. And I connect those two because I think you own your attitude. My job as a leader is to create an environment in which people thrive and can be the best they can be at whichever level they are. And that means professional development. So it’s not just about if people are happy; you need to have them fully engaged. Fully engaged people are happy, but that means we need to develop them professionally, we need to make sure they have to tools necessary to get the job done, the resources and the training.

You need all of those components, which is why I created the Leadership and Organizational Development Division. There isn’t a police department in the country that I’m aware of that does an adequate job of developing their personnel and being intentional in developing leaders. Much of what I’m trying to do is about succession planning. We should always have people on the bench. With 800 or so employees we should always have a four-or-five-deep bench for the next person. I consider myself successful if I can have three or four candidates in house that this mayor or the next mayor can choose from to be the next police chief.

MP: I want to ask you about staffing. MPD 2.0 expressed a desire to get officers out of squad cars more often so as to build better relations with residents, something that requires an increase in the number of sworn officers. You also hoped that those additional hires as well as replacements for the retiree increase would give you an opportunity to further diversify the force. Have you succeeded in meeting hiring goals in terms of numbers and diversity? 

“What I’m trying to do is create opportunities for officers to connect with community outside of a crisis, because oftentimes we see people at their worst and their response to us isn’t always best because they’re at their worst.”

JH: We’re moving in the right direction. There are some problems that not only this department but every department in the state, if not the country, (has) trying to capture adequate diversity. I’m looking at restructuring in the organization to really focus on the recruitment, a long-term strategy. My conversations with the mayor and the council members have been to be hiring on a routine basis. We know we’re going to be hiring so many in a year rather than peaks and valleys of hiring. When you do that you have more-robust hiring tracks. You need to capture people at different levels, when they’re younger, in our Explorer Program, in our CSO’s (Community Service Officers) and cadets, and then recruits so we have a continuous pipeline. And we also need to make a concerted effort in a diversity pool. Right now we are competing with every police department in the state of Minnesota for talented people. And we are competing against every business and organization that is also trying to diversify. 

I’m looking at branding and marketing the Minneapolis Police Department and MPD 2.0 and changing what people believe policing is. Because what it used to be when I got hired in 1987 is not what it is today. We are not strictly law enforcement officers. We are about crime prevention; we are problem solvers, team builders and, frankly, we are community leaders.

MP: The department recently began a pilot program to test the use of body cameras on officers. While you have said you support equipping all offices with camera after the test period, you also seem to be trying to lower expectations, I sense, calling them just a tool. Can you expand on what you think the project can accomplish and then perhaps what it cannot accomplish? 

JH: We need people of high integrity. And I think, although cameras will capture incidents, they are still one piece of a story, and we need to ensure that we equip our officers in how to interact, in their tactics and in those things. So what I’m trying to do is ensure that people understand that the body camera is an added tool. We have cameras in the squads. So now it’s on the person. That’s not necessarily going to change every interaction. I think it will help. It will help us capture things that weren’t normally captured. Do I think it will hold people accountable on both sides more? It absolutely will. But it’s a tool. It’s a great tool. But I think people have expectations there’s going to be an insurmountable change because of body cameras. I think it’s just going to show what I already know, that our interactions with the public are exactly how they should be most of the time. I can’t say always, but I will definitely say most of the time. And in incidents where they are not, that will be captured.

MP: The controversy over the issue that has been dubbed #pointergate suggests a troubled relationship between the rank and file and the leadership of the department. Do you think that is an accurate perception? And do you think the rank and file support the changes you and the mayor are trying to make in the workings and culture of the department?

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JH: Before I became chief, I spent 96 hours listening to members of this department. And I spent countless hours talking and listening to the community on where we need to go. I will tell you 2.0 is a creation of what everybody said. What they wanted and what they needed. Although there are always going to be resisters to change, this department not only is embracing it, they want it. Change takes time. And so for every person that feels that things are a good change, it also requires people to do more, to give more. And it’s hard for people to do things you’re not used to doing. It’s hard to, at times, do things better than you used to. And frankly it’s hard to do things differently for some than for others.

“The mayor and I are in lockstep, frankly, in the direction this department needs to go. Our roles are different in how we get there. But where we want to be is exactly the same.”

But this department is more than ready for the change. I get letters. I get emails. I’ve had officers stop in and say, “Chief, we like where we’re going.” So I would say sometimes what you see and hear in the media, and what’s going on inside this organization, and frankly inside the community with relationships with this police department, are much better than what they appear to be on the surface. 

MP: To follow up, do you think rank and file morale is good. It’s never great, but is it good? 

JH: Morale ebbs and flows. This is a large organization and depending on who you talk to and where they are currently working will depend upon the answer you will get. But I will tell you as a whole, people are engaged and they are fully working towards becoming the better version of ourselves.   

MP: Speaking of relationships, how is yours with the mayor?

JH: The mayor and I are in lockstep, frankly, on the direction this department needs to go. Our roles are different in how we get there. But where we want to be is exactly the same.

MP: What wakes you up in the middle of the night — and I don’t mean your cell phone or the cat.

JH: You know, it’s the shooting of an innocent child. Frankly, the verdict coming out [of Ferguson] … people are very emotional right now so we want to ensure that people can exercise their freedom of speech with safety. It’s the tragedy you can’t see coming. I don’t even want to dare say any type of officer injured. That is absolutely — outside of a catastrophic big event — something that keeps me up at night.

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MP: What are your take-aways from the listening sessions you and the mayor conducted across the city?

JH: I guess I would say the majority of what I heard was very much long-standing frustration with racial inequity, some of it involving the police department and some of it, frankly, not having anything to do with the police department; having to do with employment and education and opportunities. There’s definitely some long-standing, underlying frustration there. Also with relations with the police department. It just reminded me that we still have much further to go. But I do think we have all the right people at the table to make progress. We have some great community leaders out there who are doing things for the right reasons. We have a police chief and a police administration and a police department that’s ready to do that, a mayor and a city council that supports those things and all the steps we’re taking to try to build those relationships.

I get an idea every time I meet with a group or have a conversation with somebody. And sometimes they’re small things and sometimes they’re big things. People were given an opportunity to vent, certainly, and I’m always looking for what is the solution. My questions always are, “What do you need to see to feel safe? What do you need to see to have trust in your police department?” If people can’t tell me that, it makes it hard for me to produce that.  

MP: OK, bonus round. What do you think I should have asked but didn’t? 

JH: What’s the thing that surprised me the most in the two years? I grew up on this police department. I didn’t grow up in this city, but I grew up on this police department. What surprises me is how sometimes people want change, but yet they really don’t. The other is that somebody is always very angry; and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to please everybody — because that’s virtually impossible — and if I am I’m probably not doing my job. As you’re making change and doing the right things, people notice that as well. Change takes time, but we are making progress.