As a girl growing up in Duluth, Janeé Harteau dreamed of making a big impact on society, but she never envisioned she would do it as the police chief of a city of 380,000 people.
After a 25-year-career in which she patrolled Franklin Avenue, was featured on an episode of Cops, wrote a self-defense book and dealt with harassment by her fellow officers, she’s poised to take over as Minneapolis Police Chief in January.
Part Native American and French Canadian, Harteau, if confirmed by the City Council, would be one of just two female police chiefs in big U.S. cities. The other is Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Harteau is aware of the pressure she’ll face as the first-ever female top cop in Minneapolis. The road she’ll walk was paved, in part, by female pioneers in the Minneapolis Police Department. She mentioned former Assistant Chief Sharon Lubinski, who is now the U.S. Marshal for Minnesota, and Minneapolis 3rd Precinct Insp. Lucy Gerold.
“I feel an enormous responsibility to be successful,” she said. “But I know I didn’t get here alone. I got here, frankly, on the shoulders of many women and pioneers before me, and those within the department.”
Harteau will be taking over one of the toughest jobs in the state, heading up law enforcement in the largest Minnesota city and taking over for the retiring Tim Dolan, who decreased violent crime dramatically and had strong support from the City Council during his six years as chief.
“It is a proud moment, but it is also frankly a very scary moment because I do feel like all eyes are upon me for more than one reason,” she said. “My focus is still not about me. I’m just Janeé, and it’s really about the people we serve.”
Local leaders and community members have a lot of confidence in Harteau, 47. She got her start with the MPD in 1987 at age 22 and worked her way from a beat cop in several parts of the city to heading up crime and licensing units. She became inspector of the 1st Precinct, which oversee downtown Minneapolis, from 2006 to 2009. Dolan tabbed her for his assistant chief in 2011.
“I have a lot confidence in her. She’s my second in command,” Dolan said. “She’s got an incredible head on her shoulders. She’s progressive. I’ve been excited about her for a long time.”
City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) represented Downtown at the same time Harteau served as inspector of the 1st Precinct. Goodman credits Harteau with establishing public-private partnerships that have helped the city deal with crime and homelessness.
“I hold her in extremely high regard,” said Goodman, who did not support the two police chiefs before Dolan. “I think she is extremely respected by residents and business people downtown.”
Goodman said a female police chief has been a long time coming. Lubinski was a finalist for the job in 2004.
“It should have happened already,” Goodman said. “It’s unfortunate it didn’t happen sooner, but it couldn’t have happened to a better person.”
In 1996, Harteau and Sgt. Holly Keegel filed sexual discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that alleged the Police Department didn’t take action against colleagues who harassed them and ignored their calls for backup.
The case was resolved through mediation, and Harteau has said the Police Department is dramatically different today.
Mayor R.T. Rybak announced Harteau as his choice on April 30, a few days after Dolan announced he would retire at the end of 2012, giving Dolan and Harteau time to make a smooth transition.
Roseamary Knutson is
certain Harteau will be up to the challenge.
In the early 2000s, Knutson took over as president of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood association. The neighborhood, she said, was divided and she was looking for a way to unite people. At the suggestion of Neighborhood Revitalization Program specialist Robert Thompson, she called the 1st Precinct and asked for help in organizing a safety committee in the neighborhood.
Knutson was assigned Harteau, who had just taken over as lieutenant of that police ward.
Knutson and Harteau met many times over the next year and successfully formed a safety committee that was instrumental in increasing safety around the Hiawatha Light Rail stop in the neighborhood. The committee still exists today.
Harteau, Knutson said, couldn’t have been more helpful.
“She was marvelous, just marvelous,” Knutson said. “When I reached out looking for help, she was there and she went out of her way. She’s just the cat’s meow.”
Knutson, a real estate agent, has remained friends with Harteau over the years and now counts the future police chief as a client.
Harteau, Knutson said, is has both the soft and hard qualities for leading 850 city cops.
“She’s smart. She’s hard working. She’s kind. She’s got a big heart. She is competent. She is going to show up and give 110 percent,” Knutson said. “The other thing about her is that I wouldn’t mess with her. She’s a tough cookie.”
Lubinski — now the U.S. Marshal — started the same year as Harteau for the city and saw Harteau work a number of challenging positions.
“I think she brings decisiveness as well as compassion to the role of chief,” Lubinski said. “If you’re going to be chief, you need to be tested ahead of time because you certainly will be tested when you’re the chief. She certainly has been tested.”
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