Not just a chip off the old cop

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September 3, 2002 // UPDATED 1:30 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

Son of a former Minneapolis police chief, Dominick Bouza was once literally a Mickey Mouse cop -- but found his niche serving Downtown's homeless

"I hate Mondays."

Those are normal words for most people. They carry a bit more weight when Dominick Bouza mutters them after arriving at work to find that one of his clients died and another was stabbed.

It's not a typical Monday for Bouza, a program coordinator at Catholic Charities Branch II, 1000 Currie Ave. He said his workplace normally isn't so bloody. At the same time, Bouza doesn't seem particularly shocked as he asks an employee to clean up bloodstains in the bathroom.

If his name sounds familiar, yes, Dominick Bouza is the son of former Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza and jeweler/activist Erica Bouza. This son of a lawman is also the coordinator of the pay-for-stay floor at Catholic Charities' secure waiting center, where he has earned a reputation among both the homeless and the cops as "cool."

"If you're feeling down and out, Dominick will crack a joke to cheer you up," said client Maurice Perteet. "He's been helping out a lot of people. I'm glad that he's here."

According to First Precinct crime prevention specialist Luther Krueger, Bouza also works effectively with the police.

"Dominick comes to every meeting with us saying, 'What more can we do? How can we make things better?'" Krueger said. "From our perspective, it's always nice when you have someone in a charity who has a pretty good perspective on how law enforcement works and the definite need to collaborate on issues. It's so refreshing."

"The best person in this place"

Bouza is well liked among clients at Catholic Charities. Ask just about any client at secure waiting, they'll tell you Bouza is all right. You know they're not being flippant, because in the same breath they'll verbally bash other staff at Catholic Charities. "Dominick's the best person in this place," said a client named Sam.

"At least Dominick's fair," yells another client angrily.

Bouza's popularity stems from the way he treats clients and his honesty with them. "To me, the truth is worth more than money. There is no bullshit here," he said. "I'm in a continual monetary transaction with these guys. They've got to trust that I'm not going to sell their bed to someone else. People know I'm honest."

Bouza came to Catholic Charities' secure waiting center (also called Branch II) from Catholic Charities Evergreen facility, where he worked as an employment specialist. At the secure waiting center, Bouza has helped turn the second floor into a pay-for-stay shelter for men.

According to Bouza, the decision to charge homeless people rent at the secure waiting center was a recommendation from a county and city task force on homelessness. The pay-for-stay floor opened July 1.

For $3 a day or $18 a week, tenants at the secure waiting center get a bed, a locker, clean sheets, pillows, towels and some personal hygiene items. After the men check in at 5 p.m., they can stay out until 10 p.m. As for food, they can go next door to the Salvation Army for dinner. If a client finds housing while living on the pay-for-stay floor, the money he has paid to Catholic Charities in rent will be refunded to him to help pay for an

apartment.

The main floor of the Secure Waiting Center is still free to homeless men, but they receive little more than a mat and a meal, and must be inside by 7 p.m. Bouza said that the pay-for-stay floor "has taken up the level of the shelter by a half step."

Many of the clients at Catholic Charities don't mind paying for their bed. "It's not bad upstairs," said Scott Hurley, who's been staying on the pay-for-stay floor for two months. "The people who are paying are trying to get back on their feet."

Perteet said that he would always rather pay rent than stay somewhere for free. "You can't really relax unless you pay your own way. You've got to be a responsible person," he said.

Said Bouza, "I think there's a higher accountability upstairs. There's a greater respect for the individual."

Affable and accountable

Beyond being good at his job, Bouza is simply an affable person. Standing over 6 feet tall, he's a big guy whose size contributes to his St. Bernard-like personality. Laid back is a phrase that comes to mind when meeting Bouza, and his dad can vouch for his laissez-faire attitude. "I think Dominick represents both the best and the worst in me," Tony Bouza said. "I was always a bit lazy, a bit easygoing, figuring the world would look after itself."

Dominick is also still a bit of a kid, with his comic book collection and dream of opening a comic book store. He also admits to having no personal money management skills: "Give me $100 and I'll go out and buy action figures."

Although understandably biased, Tony Bouza also describes his son as "a sweet, generous, kind person ... He is a joy and he has been a joy for the 38 years I've known him."

Dominick and his brother (also named Tony) grew up in New York's Westchester County, which his mother Erica describes as "an area where there were a lot of striving people." Dominick said the prevailing wisdom in his childhood town was "the guy who died with the most money was the winner."

As a child, Dominick was the "big, soft kid" and a late bloomer. Because of his size and naivet, his classmates often picked on him, and his biggest focus of elementary school was fending off those who wanted to beat him up.

When Dominick was 16, his family moved to Minneapolis, where his father became chief of police. Dominick attended Southwest High School.

As the son of a police chief, Dominick lived under a spotlight. "I couldn't go anywhere without being introduced as the chief's son," he said.

Tony said Dominick was always careful never to embarrass his father, even while his mother was being arrested and serving jail time for protesting with Women Against Military Madness.

"He was extraordinarily careful not to get into any problems or be seen somewhere that might be suspect," Tony said. "I always said to him, 'you have a life to lead. Lead your life.' I mean, his mother was getting arrested six times after all and my career seemed to be progressing anyway."

Dominick says he wasn't a very good high school student, but he was accepted at St. Paul's Macalester College. He thinks the impassioned sonnet he wrote in his application letter might have had something to do with his acceptance.

As a young adult, Bouza lived in Los Angeles where he was a Mickey Mouse cop -- literally. "I worked for Walt Disney," he said.

Working security on the Disney studio lot, Bouza was elected as shop steward for the union -- a position he credits as being the catalyst for his later career in social work.

"I enjoyed taking the individuals' sides (in legal confrontations)," Bouza said.

While in L.A., Bouza nearly followed in his father's footsteps by attempting to join the police department, but never scored high enough on the oral exam.

"I wanted Dominick to be a cop -- which is a form of social work," Tony Bouza said of his son. "I think in his innermost heart he didn't want to do it. If he had wanted to do it, he would have."

In 1993, Bouza came back to Minneapolis to work on his father's losing gubernatorial campaign. From there, Dominick kicked off his social service career working for Project for Pride in Living, 2516 Chicago Ave., as a community organizer in Minneapolis' Sheridan neighborhood and as the coordinator of a resource center.

Bouza also had a short stint as a private investigator and he worked on Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar's victorious campaign.

For Klobuchar, Bouza pounded lawn signs while Klobuchar's father, Jim, rang doorbells. He also appeared at campaign events with Amy.

"Dominick is so tall and imposing that when he would wear my tee-shirt we would be able to walk through the state fair and people would see him a mile away," Amy Klobuchar said. "He was like a walking advertisement."

With his work on two political campaigns, it might be natural for politics to be Bouza's next career move, but when asked about his aspirations, Bouza is coy. \"If I figured there was a position that I could actually help people, I might run.\"

Until then, Bouza said he would rather be a "jack of all trades and master of none." He plans to write a book one day about his experiences in social work. "It would be fiction based on true stories that I've witnessed here," he said.

Other than that, he's not sure where the future will lead him. His father hopes that he will get married and have kids. "The fact that he is not married and doesn't have children -- I think he's missing a little something there for sure," Tony Bouza said.

Although Dominick has a live-in girlfriend, he shies away from the marriage question. Said Dominick, "I'm only 38."