Q&A:On the Horizon

New Police Chief Tim Dolan reflects on major challenges he faces in new role

With the pressure of a long, debated appointment process behind him, Interim Police Chief Tim Dolan is quickly settling into his role as the department's full-time leader. The City Council voted 12-1 last month to appoint the 23-year Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) veteran to a three-year term as chief starting Jan. 2.

Downtown Journal reporter Jake Weyer recently sat down with Dolan to discuss the chief's plans and priorities for the department, challenges the MPD faces, and other issues. Below are highlights from the interview.

Weyer: So you've made it through the process, and in January you'll be named full-time chief. How does that affect your role in the Minneapolis Police Department?

Dolan: It's already affected my role. When we look at things that I want to do in the Police Department, I now feel comfortable making those changes and I'll be starting those sooner rather than waiting until January. I didn't want to do that as a candidate for the job because you hate to move people around, you hate to reorganize when somebody new might come in and they're going to do it all over again.

So, I've been holding off on some of that. One of the things I did do was [reinstate] the Juvenile Unit, but what I haven't done with the Juvenile Unit is doing it to the extent that I want to do it, so I'm going to be building upon that.

Weyer: Any other changes you want to make?

Dolan: Oh there are, but not ones I'm ready to talk about with the media yet. The first step is sitting down with the different ranks as well as the civilian employees in the department. I'll be sitting down with most everyone from lieutenant on up and having interviews. I have some thoughts on where I want to go, but I want to get input from those people, too. I hope to have all my interviews done by November and hopefully have an organizational plan by mid-December.

Weyer: What's the biggest challenge facing the Minneapolis Police Department right now?

Dolan: It's crime. We do have a crime issue that we're dealing with. Realistically, things are trending very well and we're seeing a decrease in violent crime of about 1 percent a week. I'm optimistic that we'll be in a much better place at the end of this year than we were after first quarter, after the first half. We'll still be up probably citywide, but it's going to be a single digit, small digit.

The biggest problem is not only dealing with the crime, but dealing with the communications and the expectations. During political times that's pretty hard. A candidate can pretty much say whatever they want to say, whether they are supported by the facts or not.

Weyer: Do you think the Police Department would do better with a Democratic or Republican governor or Legislature?

Dolan: We just need somebody that sees the needs of high-urban-density areas as something that the state needs to support. I look at Downtown as the heart of Minneapolis. If Downtown became an area that was undesirable, that nobody wanted to invest in, the city as a whole would fall apart. If Minneapolis falls apart, the state as a whole, this metro area as a whole is going to fall apart.

Weyer: Are there any specific Downtown or Southwest initiatives or issues you'd like to talk about?

Dolan: As far as Downtown, we need continued partnerships. Even though I'm adding 40 officers this year and another 40 officers next year - we're going to have a total close to 80 more officers - we still need the partnerships Downtown for that visibility and presence.

Weyer: Are you talking about business partnerships?

Dolan: Business partnerships as well as partnerships with Hennepin County and the Transit Authority. And we still are going to need targeted overtime dollars Downtown to work those Friday and Saturday nights. That's more effective than adding five or 10 officers to the 1st Precinct.

That also plays into what we do in Southwest Minneapolis. Being able to do this more efficient and effective target of overtime Downtown gives me flexibility then to make sure officers are staffed in precincts so you have your 911 response and patrol that you want in Southwest Minneapolis. It's very inefficient to put officers - when you're looking at Downtown, which is event specific, night specific, evening specific - it's very inefficient to put staff on 24-7, whereas when you look at Southwest Minneapolis, that's exactly what they want. They want that increased presence 24-7.

Weyer: There's been an emphasis on the North Side; does that mean there are fewer officers in Southwest?

Dolan: That hasn't been true, even when we look at staffing now. North is actually understaffed, though they do get the STOP unit [Strategic Operations Program] most of the time. As we're adding officers, we're not adding them to the North Side. They got their additional officers early, so we'll be adding them to other precincts. As we're adding officers in the future it's going to be based on an equal deployment.

Weyer: Recently, there was a rash of robberies in the second sector of the 5th Precinct. Do you have any idea where this is coming from?

Dolan: Well, Kris is working on that, [5th Precinct Insp.] Kristine Arneson. It's young men and it's somewhat gang related. (Police in the 5th Precinct) have a strategy, and they're working on it. They're also getting some help from the 3rd Precinct.

Weyer: I'm sure you saw the recent Morgan Quitno Press study of city safety that ranked Minneapolis 345th out of 371 cities (26 spots away from least safe). Does that seem right to you?

Dolan: Well, I don't know much about their study and what they're basing it on.

Weyer: It's based on FBI figures released in June.

Dolan: We know that the June figures were off here. If that's the case, that was when they reported violent crime was up 37 percent and those were preliminary figures; it was actually 15 percent.

Weyer: What kind of relationship do you plan to have with the City Council?

Dolan: Even though I directly report to the mayor, I look at the Council as very much being 13 bosses. So, I have 14 bosses on this job. The biggest challenge for me is communicating with all of them. That's always been a challenge, and I've been working hard at it.

Weyer: Does the Minneapolis Police Department have an officer misconduct problem?

Dolan: I'm glad you asked that question because we compare ourselves as far as complaints per officers with other cities our size and we're on the low end. …

When you look at it statistically we're doing OK. A lot of that's blown out of proportion by the attention that the chief's process got. It's not something that we're not going to continue to work on, but [ours is] not a Police Department that's out of control by any means.

Weyer: Does the Minneapolis Police Department need to improve its relationship with the community?

Dolan: My two main goals are: number one, to reduce crime and, number two, to improve community relations, and that can only happen through working with the community. Our work with the community here is second to none when we look at Police Departments in this area. We have a high demand for that in the city, and we have a high expectation. We need to continue building on that, and we will.

Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 and jweyer@mnpubs.com