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Minneapolis officials back Police Chief Harteau’s limited comments on Friday events

“She’s doing what a police chief has to do in a tough situation which is, first, get the facts right,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak.

MinnPost/Karen Boros
Police Chief Janee Harteau

The job of a cop and the job of a reporter can put the two professions in frequent conflict, as recent events in Minneapolis show.

Reporters want answers and they want them now, while cops don’t tend to care much about news deadlines as they work on finding the facts and getting things right, rather than getting them first.

We have seen this scenario play out in the days following Friday’s events, which resulted in two deaths and two wounded police officers in Uptown.

Cops conduct investigations that must stand up in a court of law, and if that takes a few extra weeks or a few extra months, then that’s what it takes.

On Monday, following the Police Department’s awards ceremony, reporters circled Police Chief Janee Harteau with cameras and recorders at the ready and asked if there were any developments in the investigation into Friday’s events.

She declined to comment, saying that she did not want to take the focus off the accomplishments of the department’s honored sworn and civilian employees.

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The reporters pushed. She stood firm and then excused herself for a photo session with the award winners.

In Harteau’s absence, the Police Department’s new communications spokesperson, Cyndi Barrington, explained that the investigation was not complete and that the department was not ready with answers.

Reporters also pushed her for answers but also got nowhere.

This left some grumbling about Harteau’s performance during her first big test of leadership ability in tough times.

Despite critics, her bosses couldn’t be happier with Harteau’s performance. They are pleased that she is not rushing to the microphone before she has her facts in hand.

At a news conference on Wednesday, she shared very little new information but did acknowledge that a police vehicle went through a red light, colliding with a motorcyclist, killing him.

Harteau continued to tell reporters that Friday’s events are still under investigation.

“She’s doing what a police chief has to do in a tough situation which is, first, get the facts right,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “This is a very complicated issue where, rightfully, people have questions. We want to make sure we have answers before we go out and make statements that aren’t backed by fact.

“We know how important this is, and we will be moving as fast as we can,” said Rybak, acknowledging the need for a public discussion of what happened but cautioning that such a discussion should come after the facts are known.

“I think she’s exercising the kind of restraint and thoughtfulness that a situation like this requires,” said Council Member Don Samuels, who chairs the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee, which oversees the Police Department.

“History is full of incidents where people are jailed wrongly for decades, and when you review the situation, it was because enthusiastic law enforcement officers felt extremely pressured by the community’s need for information and for outcome that they did irrational or sometimes illegal things,” Samuels said.

 “I’m very happy with the way it’s going.  I think anything else would be kowtowing to the urgency of the moment,” he added.

“I think she’s being tested — that’s what happens when you have a new chief,” said Council President Barb Johnson. “I’m really impressed with her calmness and not responding to pressure to get information out when she’s not ready to give it.”

“I am not one to push the Police Department to give me information before they’re ready,” she said. “They have their job to do, and they’re involved in a process that is very, very serious for the people who have been hurt, for the people who have died, the people who will be charged.  I don’t get into that mix.”