Listen: Harteau's groundbreaking tenure as MPD chief

MPR’s Brandt Williams looks back at Janeé Harteau's groundbreaking tenure as the first woman to serve as Minneapolis police chief…and the first openly gay chief.

Williams interviews Harteau as she leaves her position with the Minneapolis Police Department. The killing of Justine Ruszczyk by officer Mohamed Noor sent Minneapolis reeling and morphed into an international incident. Nearly a week later, Harteau was out, with Mayor Betsy Hodges demanding her resignation. It was a stunning fall for a veteran officer who'd climbed through the Minneapolis Police Department ranks and won widespread national applause when she took over the force.


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SPEAKER 1: Tomorrow, a Minneapolis City Council committee will hold a public hearing to discuss interim chief Medaria Arradondo's appointment. Now, if it is approved, he'll become the city's first African-American police chief, following another pioneer in the role five years ago, Janee Harteau became the first woman to serve as Minneapolis Police Chief and the first openly gay chief. Brandt Williams looks back at Harteau's groundbreaking tenure.

SPEAKER 2: Please welcome Chief Harteau.


BRANDT WILLIAMS: This cadet graduation ceremony in 2015 was one of Janee Harteau's favorite things about being chief of police. Harteau praised the 27 soon-to-be police officers and their families. She also joked about one new legacy hire who was joining her brother and father on the force.

JANEE HARTEAU: So either Dad did something right or something wrong and you're all after mom. I'm not really sure which. But--

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Also in that class of cadets was officer Mohamed Noor. Nearly two years after his graduation, Noor shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk. Less than a week later, Mayor Betsy Hodges asked for and accepted Harteau's resignation.

I sat down with Harteau as she cleared out her desk the first time she'd spoken publicly since her resignation. She looked relaxed and dressed like she was heading to a backyard barbecue. Harteau noted some of the mementos still hanging on the walls of her old corner office.

JANEE HARTEAU: You know, just a variety of awards. I've got toastmasters, Team Women Minnesota.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: When Harteau became chief in 2012, she was thrust into the national spotlight almost immediately. A picture on the office wall next to the door shows Harteau meeting President Obama just two months after she was sworn in.

JANEE HARTEAU: That was quite an honor. That's how I started my tenure as chief is introducing the president when he came to Minneapolis. And then I rolled out MPD 2.0 in February, and then things rapidly changed. [LAUGHS] But that's the nature of policing.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: MPD 2.0 was the umbrella term for Harteau's vision for policing, which included a focus on accountability and transparency. As the new head of a police department that has struggled to win over the trust of African-Americans and other people of color, Harteau wanted her officers to treat the public like they would want their own family members to be treated. But she soon learned that implementing her vision would be easier said than done.

Just a few months later, Minneapolis Police officers shot and killed 22-year-old Terrance Franklin, an African-American man suspected of burglary. Later that year, two white Minneapolis Police officers were accused of making racial slurs while off duty in Green Bay. In an unprecedented move, Harteau released details of the Franklin shooting investigation.

The officers who killed Franklin would not face criminal charges, nor any department discipline. Harteau did fire the two officers involved in the Green Bay incident, but that seemed to do little to counter claims of widespread racial bias among the city's police force. A 2015 analysis of arrest data conducted by the ACLU showed that African-Americans and Native Americans were arrested at rates nearly nine times higher than the rate for whites.

TERESA NELSON: I think she understood that the numbers were unsustainable.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Theresa Nelson is the Interim Executive Director of the ACLU's Minnesota chapter. She believes Harteau was sincere in her desire to address racial disparities.

TERESA NELSON: But maybe wasn't willing to accept as much of the responsibility as I thought that the department bared.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: After the ACLU report was released, Harteau said other factors like poverty contribute to the arrest disparities. She said many people stopped for traffic offenses are ticketed for not having a driver's license. Harteau said license testing sites are outside the city, making access to the test hard for many low-income residents.

Nelson and others give Harteau credit for starting changes in police culture and training, which may pay off in the years to come. Harteau implemented procedural justice training, implicit bias training, and expanded training for all officers to handle situations with people experiencing mental health emergencies. Chuck Wexler is the Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, DC.

CHUCK WEXLER: It's fair to say that she/her view of policing was consistent with a lot of the more forward thinking, progressive thinking of police chiefs in the country.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Harteau is leaving the Department after 30 years of service, but may not be done in law enforcement. She's received job offers from other police departments, including the Dallas PD. Harteau says, she still wants to contribute to the career field she loves so much, although she's not sure yet what form that will take.

JANEE HARTEAU: That's my bike from my-- I just did my last chief's community bike ride.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Back in her old office, among the mementos and milestones that marked her career, Harteau has a hard time listing her accomplishments.

JANEE HARTEAU: People ask me, what are you the most proud of all this? It's almost too much to really encapsulate. But my goal is or was from the beginning when I walked in the doors to leave it better than when I came, and I think I have.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.

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