The next top cop

The search for a new police chief heats up -- and here's what city leaders (and others) want

The city of Minneapolis is now taking applications for its next police chief.

Whoever surfaces through the winnowing process will step into a difficult spot -- less money and more demands for better service and outreach to the city's many racial and cultural


What are the key skills and experiences that city leaders think the next chief should have?

Mayor R.T. Rybak outlined his expectations for the next chief Aug. 27 when he announced the city had hired Washington-based Oldani Group to conduct the search. The next chief must:

  • maintain public safety;

  • provide strong leadership and management;

  • demand respectful, consistent service in all communities; and

  • provide visible leadership that builds partnerships with the community.

    Police Chief Robert Olson's contract expires at year's end. Rybak unsuccessfully tried to oust him a year ago. Olson has not commented publicly on the mayor's most recent move to replace him and said he doesn't plan to.

    The mayor will nominate the new chief. The Executive Committee --

    consisting of the mayor and City Council leaders -- appoints the chief. Finally, the full City Council must approve the appointment.

    Representatives from various minority communities have pressured the police department for federal mediation over what they say is consistent police misconduct and abuse.

    The mayor has already begun efforts to engage people in the selection process. He appointed a 21-member Citizen Advisory Committee to advise him -- a committee that includes leaders from many minority communities, as well as government and business representatives (see list, on the right). He has set up e-mail and conventional mail opportunities for citizens to comment on what they want in a new chief.

    Councilmembers interviewed prior to the mayor's announcement stressed that a key criterion they will use to evaluate the next chief will be the person's track record on community outreach and trust-building.

    Councilmembers back Rybak's plan for a national search to give the process credibility -- but despite the department's well-publicized problems, many also voice a strong preference for promoting from within. Internal candidates have established relationships in the community and have an established track record and don't have to learn the community, several said.

    Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), chair of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, made a typical comment: The next chief needs leadership and organizational skills, and an understanding that "law enforcement is about actively working closely with communities," he said.

    Internal candidates can "hit the ground running," Niziolek said.

    He didn't rule out hiring an outsider, but, "we have some outstanding brass right now," he said. "I am feeling there is a good chance we will see an internal candidate as the next police chief."

    Niziolek did not give a preferred candidate, but other Councilmembers were not so hesitant.

    "I think if you have the right person, and you know you have the right person, you go with that person," said Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward). "I think that person is [Deputy Chief] Sharon Lubinski."

    Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) said he, too, preferred an internal candidate, and the best choices are Lubinski -- with whom he has worked over the years -- or Deputy Chief Lucy Gerold. Gerold headed the Community Crime Prevention/SAFE program from 1983 to 1997 as a civilian and became an officer in 1997. She previously served as 5th Precinct Inspector in Southwest.

    Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) said he was open to internal or external candidates but floated the names of 1st Precinct Inspector Rob Allen, who supervises Downtown policing, and 4th Precinct Inspector Tim Dolan, in charge of the higher-crime North Minneapolis precinct, in addition to others already mentioned. (For mini-profiles of the internal candidates, see page 14.)

    Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), expressed skepticism about the "hit-the-ground-running argument."

    She said she had yet to hear any other of the officers speak up about community relations issues -- "even the ones in leadership."

    A few officers struck her as potential leaders, but "I am not ready to say their names," Johnson Lee said. "I don't necessarily believe that just because they are here, they could create a better relationship with the community."

    What makes a great chief? As the city preps for a leadership change, the Southwest Journal asked Southwest Councilmembers what skills and background they most wanted in a new police chief.

    Councilmember Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) said he sought innovative candidates who could find ways to bring police and citizens together by other than law-enforcer/ crime-suspect models.

    "I have felt some resistance in police leadership to doing that," Lilligren aid. "I think accountability to the community is going to be measured by: reduced complaints; greater satisfaction with police services; and then very difficult to measure things like the quality of the relationships between the officers and the communities."

    Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) said the next chief needed negotiating skills -- and sympathy for the plight of the poor. "I think it would be good if they had some of the characteristics of being a person of color, a woman or gay," he said.

    (Among the four internal candidates named by councilmembers, Lubinski and Gerold are women; Lubinski is a lesbian, Allen is gay. All four are white.)

    Goodman supports Lubinski because she has seen her skill at working with people from varied backgrounds, she said.

    Other Councilmembers, including Barret Lane, (13th Ward), said the next chief needs to be savvy in working with limited resources. That person needs to look beyond head counts and budgets and talk about outcomes people should expect. He wants "someone who would be able to help us all -- both on the Council level and the community -- become better consumers of police services," Lane said.

    Rybak praised Fire Chief Rocco Forte for his long-range budget planning and his ability to develop creative proposals to rehire laid-off fire fighters, noting Olson had not displayed similar leadership.