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Police Chief nominee Janee Harteau seeking ‘collaborative’ community partnerships

“We have tremendous tools and talents, not only in the Police Department, but in the community,” she said.

MInnPost photo by Karen Boros

Minneapolis’ new nominee for police chief stressed the importance of “collaborative partnerships” with the community in her first meeting Thursday with the media.

“A leader is only as good as the people they’re surrounded by, and we have tremendous tools and talents, not only in the Police Department, but in the community,” said Assistant Police Chief Janee Harteau, Mayor R.T. Rybak’s choice to succeed Police Chief Tim Dolan, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Harteau will be the first woman to serve as Minneapolis police chief.

“This is one of the proudest actions I’ve gotten to take as mayor,” said Rybak, who said he also was proud to have nominated Dolan for his two terms.

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Harteau will need confirmation by the City Council, but Rybak said that should not be a problem.

“They’re almost as excited about this as I am,” Rybak said of council members.

 This is the third time Rybak has nominated a candidate for police chief and the second time he has found his nominee within the department. The first chief he appointed from the ranks was Dolan.

“I think you pick the best chief,” said Rybak, defending his choices. Going outside the department sometimes brings in a fresh perspective, he said, but noted that he thinks Harteau already has that fresh perspective.

Here are edited highlights from Harteau’s meeting with reporters. Before taking questions, she made brief opening remarks.

Assistant Chief Janee Harteau: I feel a little bit of enormous responsibility to be successful but I know, frankly, I didn’t get here alone. I got here on the shoulders of many women and pioneers before me.

A leader is only as good as the people they’re surrounded by, and we have tremendous tools and talents, not only in the Police Department, but in the community.

I’m very much about collaborative partnerships. Those are more than relationships.  Relationships can be dysfunctional. They can be one-sided. But we have really good partnerships here, and that means both sides are invested, both sides trust one another and understand exactly what our role is in moving forward.

We may not always agree, but we’re focused on the mission at hand and making Minneapolis the safest city.

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Q. What would you do differently from Chief Tim Dolan?

A. We’re going to build on what works. We’ve certainly been very progressive in our analytics, hot-spot policing, building community partnerships and technology.

I really want to look at what is working in all of our processes, in a deep fashion, and hear from some community members I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to yet.

Q. You have a sense of history in the department. It hasn’t always been inviting.  How do you move forward?

A. It’s all about communication and having conversations with people. Our new YouTube site is a way we can reach out to new audiences and move into a non-traditional way of communicating and reaching folks we ordinarily wouldn’t reach.

Obviously, in a big city or in a big police department, it’s really hard to talk to people one on one on a frequent basis. So how do we do that?

Technology is really helping with that — our ability to tell our story and to be able to let folks know exactly what we’re doing.

Q. What will you be doing internally within the department?

A. We have a lot of talents in the department. Really diversifying and putting the right folks in the right places [will be a focus].

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I have been really fortunate to have movement within the organization, to have people confident in my abilities. A person given that opportunity will be able to show themselves as qualified.

Q. Do you feel pressure because you are the first woman chief?

A. I know I’m female. [Laughs] I realize that, but that’s not been something that’s been a focus.

My focus has been to do my job and do it well.  I think having a few bumps along the way makes you empathic. And that comes, not just on the job, but for me as a person. [Early in her career, she filed a complaint accusing colleagues of sexual harassment. The case was resolved through mediation.] 

In my own childhood, we had struggles. We weren’t always the most wealthy people.  The more you’re exposed to different people, different demographics, the better off we all are, because we understand that we have more in common than we do different.

Q. How do you see the pioneering aspect of your nomination?

A. I stand on the shoulders of other people.  I’ve had some tremendous mentors throughout my career. U. S. Marshal Sharon Lubinski and Inspector Lucy Gerold [of the Minneapolis Police Department] are two just off the top of my head.

It’s a proud moment, but it’s a very scary moment because I do feel all eyes are on me for more than one reason.

It’s really not about me.  I’m just Janee. It’s about who we serve and about the people we work with to get us there.

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Q. What was it like to come to Minneapolis from Duluth?

A. I grew up in Duluth, for the most part. I was a big-city girl trapped in a smaller city.  I like people, I like differences and I like movement.

I really wanted to contribute, and my goal was always to have some impact. My legacy? I want people to remember I was here for a reason and that I did contribute.

That’s how I got into law enforcement. It was a challenge. I’ve always accepted a challenge. Minneapolis gave me an opportunity … to meet people I’d never come into contact with and to really make myself better.

People say, ‘As you get experience, you should have all of the answers.’ Frankly, the more you get to know and the more educated you are, the less answers you have, but the better the questions you ask.

The better questions we ask, we start to come up with better solutions.

Q. How will you cope with big events when reporters are asking questions?

A. I’m very honest and transparent, and I will always tell you what I can. I’m just beginning to understand what that will mean.

I will continue to seek help, ask for advice. I didn’t get here alone. I will not be successful alone.

Q. What will you do about the increase in crime and violence?

A. We’ve made some really good progress on violent crime, and certainly as long as we have unsolved cases, our work is not done. Downtown is certainly a focus. It always will be. We have a tremendous amount of people who come here and go downtown.  The crime numbers there are low, compared to how many people are downtown. But every crime is important to address.

Q. Did you ever dream of this job?

A. No. My focus was always on whatever job I had at the time. For me, just being good at what you’re doing and trying to contribute the best you can [leads to the next opportunity].

Q. What do you bring to this job as a woman?

A. I think it just brings a difference in dynamics. One of the reasons the chief and I work well together is that we approach things differently. We have different communication styles, but people are individuals so we all do things differently.

I don’t want to surround myself with people like me. I want to surround myself with people who bring skills and talents to complement mine.

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.