The next top cop

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September 8, 2003 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

The search for a new police chief heats up -- and here's what city leaders 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 communities.

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, below). 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."

    "I don't want to start a campaign for a police chief," she said. "I am a believer in a national search and an open process. I believe Lubinski will hold up."

    Lubinski was the 3rd Precinct Inspector in Southeast Minneapolis but recently replaced Deputy Chief Greg Hestness -- another person mentioned as a potential chief candidate. (Hestness left the force to head public safety at the University of Minnesota.)

    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 9.)

    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 Councilmembers what skills and background they most wanted in a new police chief.

    Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said the next chief needed to be a great manager and leader, someone who inspires and has the respect of what is, after all, a union workforce. That includes someone "who is going to have both the sensitivity and understanding of the diverse populations of the city of Minneapolis," he said. "And someone who can earn the respect -- and makes sure the department has the respect -- of all those communities."

    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 he 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.

    Goodman, a Downtown resident, recalled Lubinski's efforts as head of the Downtown Command combating cruising-for-sex around Loring Park.

    "I have found her to be one of the best people in the Department in working with the community," Goodman said. "She worked on a number of fairly hot-button issues, including cruising -- and the way the police treated the community people who were participating in the cruising issue. I found her to be extremely respectful when under pressure from people who were critical of the police."

    Schiff said Gerold showed innovation in her leadership, responded to emergencies well and is a very good communicator. He also praised Lubinski.

    "I have seen Inspector Lubinski for years and years -- when she was an officer and working her way up through the ranks," he said. "Without a doubt, my community trusts Inspector Lubinski."

    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.

    Police staffing -- as other city services -- has taken significant cuts with the loss of state aid and general city belt-tightening. The city had 1,094 full-time equivalent employees in the Police Department in 2001, according to city budget information. In the mayor's 2004 budget, it has a recommended staff of 968, a drop of more than 11 percent in three years.

    The Police Department projects a 4 percent increase in Part 1 crimes (including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft) in 2004. It predicts its average response time rising from less than eight minutes in 2002 to 10 minutes in 2004.