Janeé Harteau is no longer the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, but her visit to the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast Series in St. Louis Park still attracted cameras.
She spoke only briefly about controversial events during her tenure, including a Minneapolis officer’s fatal shooting of Minneapolis resident Justine Damond that contributed to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges asking Harteau to resign. However, Harteau showed a slide featuring a Star Tribune headline that read, “Justine Damond ‘didn’t have to die,’ says Minneapolis police chief.”
“Setbacks are inevitable,” Harteau said. “We have to learn from them. No matter what has transpired, these are things that shock the conscience, that you go, ‘How?’ There’s no level of training, there’s no level of wherewithal or cultural change that can prepare you for something like that.”
However, Harteau asserted that the MPD 2.0 plan she implemented during her time leading the police department had made a difference in other ways.
“Because we’re not where we want to be doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress,” she said.
Her presentation focused on creating change as well as leading during the crisis situations that arose, sometimes disrupting her plans.
Harteau, who began by remarking that she had wanted to be a rock star before becoming a cop, said she came up with a strategy for the department after former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he wanted her to become the police chief – a move that came in 2012, long after she joined the Minneapolis force in 1987.
“I knew what we really needed to do to make change was to start with our culture,” Harteau said. “Culture is really defined as a way people think and act. It either works for you or against you.”
She added, “Since I’d spent so much time in the organization paying attention, I knew who worked and who didn’t. I knew where the bodies were hidden. Just kidding. But you knew who drove that culture.”
Harteau said most people, especially cops, don’t like the way things are but don’t like change, either.
With her MPD 2.0 plan, Harteau said she asked officers and civilian department employees to ask themselves one simple question: “Did my actions reflect how I would want a family member of mine to be treated?”
Harteau said, “That answer should always be yes.”
If not, discipline, training or other responses could be appropriate, she said.
“It’s basically what we all learned in kindergarten,” Harteau said. “Treat others as you’d want to be treated.”
Because the Minneapolis department responds to hundreds of thousands of 911 calls annually, Harteau said the department did not have much opportunity to pursue crime prevention activities. While public safety is the department’s main priority, she said public safety isn’t possible without public trust because the public decides when to they will call 911 and whether to tell officers who committed a crime.
“I want Minneapolis officers to do more than 911 calls,” Harteau said. “I don’t know how you do that, but you have to manage people’s time.”
She had a goal of encouraging officers to exit their squad cars and to connect more with community members. She said that everything she knows about policing she learned from working a beat outside of a police car.
“I didn’t have the barrier,” she explained.
Transformational change in the department would not come through implicit bias training or use-of-force training but through experiences, she indicated.
“Our experiences that happen to us create our beliefs,” Harteau said. “How we think and how we believe helps creates the actions we take. … I wanted to provide people with new life experiences.”
Setbacks to her goals
She said her first months on the job went well, with a visit from President Barack Obama and meetings with all police department personnel. Then in May 2012, an officer-involved shooting occurred “and the rest is just going and going,” she said.
She learned how difficult changing the department could be.
“The only way to create opportunities and growth for people was to move people,” Harteau said. “And what happened? I got sued. Every time I moved somebody, I got a grievance filed. Do they really want change? If you want organizational, transformational change, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.”
Changing the culture could be difficult while managing life-and-death crises, she indicated. She said people could look at her Twitter profile to see how she responded.
“See how I’m trying to manage change while dealing with things that are very heart-wrenching to people,” Harteau said.
People who she hired at the department said they wanted the job to help people.
“Then you get into it,” she said. “You’re traumatized by some of the things you see.”
Police need a culture of accountability and a culture of support, Harteau said.
“There are so many men and women in this profession who do not feel supported, and we are losing them and we’re not going to be able to hire the right people unless we change that,” Harteau said.
Police have to take on aspects of other jobs, like health care workers, before flipping a switch and running into gunfire while making split-second, life-and-death decisions, she added.
“Just like our community members have been impacted by trauma and violence, so too have our officers,” she said, adding that cops wear uniforms, not super-hero costumes.
She said she sought to communicate with the public, creating a communications division.
“I became the Twitter chief,” she said, adding that social media could be a blessing and a curse.
“That info is wonderful, but I could have an incident occur and, as you know, goes worldwide and I don’t even know what’s going on,” Harteau said, adding that since she resigned from the department, “I’ve slept through the night for the first time in a really long time.”
When she did have all the information needed, Harteau said rules sometimes limited her from communicating it with the public.
“I wanted to invite media to tell why I terminate somebody,” she said.
While she said she would ask the city attorney for advice on when she could speak publicly about certain circumstances, Harteau said, “There’s so many things I kind of stepped on the line. You can’t cross it, but I stepped on it because the public demands information, and there’s so many rules that bar me from talking. It’s a challenge.”
Impact of events outside Minneapolis
She referenced the 18-day occupation of the department’s Fourth Precinct headquarters after the officer-involved shooting death of Jamar Clark by showing a slide with a photo of the protest but without referencing the shooting itself. She pivoted to discussing how protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, impacted law enforcement locally.
“Is that fair?” Harteau asked. “I do have some thoughts. Do we hold Walmart employees responsible for what happens in Target? Because it’s the same. People have to acknowledge progress while at the same time holding people responsible.”
She expressed frustration that people contacted the Minneapolis department about a shooting death in St. Anthony, a reference to the officer-involved shooting death of Philando Castile.
“I still have people reach out to me and think the shooting in St. Anthony happened in Minneapolis,” she said. “It didn’t. I get letters from little kids calling cops murderers in Minneapolis because of something that didn’t happen there.”
On protests, she said some people want to march through downtown Minneapolis while others are frustrated by the traffic created.
“No matter what we do, someone is always angry,” Harteau said. “Someone is always not happy, and that’s been my challenge as chief.”
Considering the past and future
When an attendee at the TwinWest event asked her about how gender may have played a role in her position, Harteau said, “I obviously think all eyes were upon me for a multitude of reasons.”
She was the first female police chief in Minneapolis and the first LGBT chief in the city, she said.
“So, if I’m not successful, apparently women can’t do it, right?” she said sardonically. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a male chief, so how do I answer that? I don’t wake up everyday and say, ‘I’m a girl; how do I function?’”
That said, Harteau said she believes women and men may lead a bit differently.
“I’m not saying one’s better than the other, but I do think they’re different,” she said.
She has already been approached by recruiters about becoming a police chief elsewhere, but Harteau said she believes police chiefs should know the cities they lead well. She said she would rather assist with reform efforts in other departments.
“Believe it or not, what we’re doing in Minneapolis truly is working,” she said.
She also intends to provide insight on the emotional survival of chief executives and help women in leadership.
“We often look at each other as competition, and frankly we’re not,” Harteau said. “Those are things I want to do and have a broader impact on the world in general.”
Her website, janeeharteau.com, describes her as a “visionary leader, trailblazer, transformational change agent.”
TwinWest Chamber of Commerce President Shannon Full echoed that sentiment and applied Harteau’s comments on change to the chamber.
“When you look at a transformative leader, you certainly see one in Janeé,” Full said. “Thanks for having the courage to empower others and also be willing to step on the line. We certainly appreciate that. A lot of Janeé’s comments today really hit home because we are in a very fun and very exciting transformation in this organization as well.”