Southwest councilmembers raise questions about Rybak's pick for police chief
When Mayor R.T. Rybak announced that Interim Police Chief Tim Dolan was his choice to lead the department permanently, public support and praise quickly poured in from a majority of councilmembers representing almost every corner of the city.
But in one corner of Minneapolis, the reaction from city leaders wasn't so enthusiastic.
Five of the six city councilmembers who represent Southwest neighborhoods said in recent conversations that they still have questions about Dolan that need to be answered before they can decide whether he's the best candidate for the job. Their concerns vary widely and don't necessarily have anything to do with the geographic part of the city they represent.
As of late September, Southwest-area Councilmembers Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said they remained undecided on whether they will support Dolan. Meanwhile, Ralph Remington, who represents Southwest's 10th Ward, said he will vote against the interim chief's nomination. (See sidebar on page 37 for more details on Remington's position).
Councilmember Cam Gordon (2nd Ward), who represents the area near the University of Minnesota and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, is the other undecided councilmember. The remaining seven councilmembers have publicly expressed their support for Dolan, which means supporters of the interim chief already have the majority needed to approve his appointment.
“It's like I'm running for a political office,” said Dolan, who added that the public scrutiny has been hard on his family. “That's not something I have a lot of experience in.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak announced that Dolan, a 23-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department who grew up on the North Side, is his choice for police chief at a Sept. 11 press conference. Dolan has been serving as interim chief for the Minneapolis Police Department since former Police Chief William McManus left April 15 to take the job as the top cop in San Antonio, Texas.
The city's Executive Committee voted Sept. 27 to move forward with the nomination but not before several councilmembers asked Dolan a number of questions on issues ranging from how he would handle complaints of officer misconduct to his thoughts on community policing.
Dolan's nomination will come back before the committee Oct. 11. If the committee recommends Dolan at that meeting, the nomination will move on to the Oct. 18 Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee. After councilmembers in that group review the nomination, the full City Council could vote whether to confirm Dolan as early as its Oct. 20 meeting.
An agent for change?
One of the overarching concerns that several of the Southwest councilmembers have is whether Dolan, who has worked within the MPD for more than two decades, will be an agent for change in the department. Hodges and Glidden have been vocal about their desire to see changes in the structure of the department and its practices, and they both want to hear from Dolan that he will lead those efforts.
As part of those changes, several councilmembers said they want a commitment from Dolan that he will work on strengthening police-community relations.
Ron Edwards, a member of the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC), a group of 18 community members and 12 officers including the chief, said police communication with the community has soured since McManus left. The community side of the PCRC recently voted “no confidence” in Dolan as chief because of his handling of a police-related shooting that left a man dead in South Minneapolis.
Edwards, who was at the scene of the shooting shortly after it happened, said the chief did not provide community members with adequate or timely information about what happened.
Dolan, who has been working with the victim's family and community members since the shooting, said he provided what he knew, when he knew it.
“It would have been foolish for me to speculate on the situation,” he said.
Edwards was also critical of Dolan's efforts to diversify the Police Department. The interim chief said staff diversity is important and he's been working to increase the number of officers of color and women officers.
Of the department's 811 officers, 17 percent are people of color and 16 percent are women. The number of women officers has been steady during Dolan's brief time as interim chief and the number of officers of color has increased slightly.
“The goal is to never take a step back,” Dolan said. “We want to get to percentages that match the communities we serve.”
Several councilmembers are also concerned about the diversity of the department. Part of the reform that Hodges would like to see in the department is that minority officers aren't just hired, but that there's a culture in the department that allows for their retention once they are hired. While she joined almost all of the councilmembers in saying that they want the best candidate - regardless of race - to become police chief, Hodges said there would be advantages in having a police chief of color.
“I think it would be remarkable, and I think it would be useful to have a police chief who is a person of color in the city of Minneapolis, given some of the internal dynamics that I think are challenging the city and given the tenuous community-police relationship,” Hodges said.
In the minority
With a majority of councilmembers having already publicly stated their support for Dolan, those in the minority have less political clout in getting Dolan to commit to any changes within the department or support for specific programs.
“I do want to have a full Council discussion about some of these reform issues,” Hodges said. “So far, the mayor's office and the chief of police's office have not had an agenda regarding internal Police Department change. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, starting this conversation now is one way we can get an agenda for Police Department change.”
Rybak counters that both he and Dolan are committed to reforming the Police Department. Dolan has been working on hiring a diverse workforce and has been reforming some of the practices of officers, the mayor said.
“As a mayor who is deeply committed to ongoing reform, I know Chief Dolan can get that done better than any other chief I know,” Rybak said.
While Rybak has shown strong support for his choice for chief, Lilligren said he's concerned that the relationship between the mayor and Dolan might be a little too cozy.
“I don't think the citizens of Minneapolis have been particularly well served by having a police chief who allows the mayor to be very hands-on in the day-to-day operations of the department,” Lilligren said. “I want Dolan to clarify that he would be in charge of the department.”
Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) said he talks with Dolan several times a week about violent crime in his ward, and he praised the interim chief for restoring the juvenile crime unit to fight the increase in violent crimes committed by young adults and for his work to reduce gang activity.
“We have a day-to-day working relationship that is miles better than the silence I got when McManus was police chief,” Schiff said.
Though a handful of community members are watching the chief's seat closely, many community members don't have a particular stance on whether Dolan should be appointed. Several Minneapolis neighborhood representatives said their groups have not discussed whether Dolan should take the reins of the MPD permanently.
Matt Perry, chairman of the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association's Crime Prevention and Safety Committee, said the neighborhood hadn't taken a position of support for Dolan, but it would like to see the chief position filled as soon as possible so police can focus on addressing the city's crime and safety issues.
Perry and representatives from other neighborhoods said they would like to see the Community Crime Prevention Safety for Everyone (CCP/SAFE) unit expanded. The unit's crime prevention specialists work with neighborhoods to keep them abreast of crime trends and help community members organize to prevent crime.
Much of the CCP/SAFE unit was cut in 2003 because of budget shortfalls. Dolan said no further cuts are planned, and crime prevention specialists will be maintained in each sector of each precinct. He has no plans to expand the department further.
Assistant Chief Sharon Lubinski has worked at a command level with Dolan for the past decade. She thinks the Mayor picked the right guy.
“What you see is what you get with Tim Dolan,” she said. “He's honest, forthright, fair and open with officers and also caring about the community.”
Lubinski said Dolan knows the department, the city and its issues. It would take at least a year for an outsider to get situated as chief, she said.
John Delmonico, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, which represents the city's more than 800 officers, said officers trust and respect Dolan. He said Dolan's clean record and long-term experience speak for themselves.
“Tim Dolan has been here for 23 years because he wants to be,” Delmonico said. “Unlike the past couple chiefs who have used this job as a stepping stone.”