Dolan's performance judged on more than crime statsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — This week, dozens of supporters and critics of Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan will converge on City Hall. They'll offer testimony on Dolan's nomination to serve another term.
During his first term, crime has made a steady decline. And for some council members that's enough to support Dolan's reappointment. But others say they will consider more than just crime numbers.
At the beginning of Dolan's first term in 2006, the City Council adopted a list of criteria to judge his performance. The goals included diversifying the police force, improving community relations and disciplining officers.
Dolan has made some progress increasing racial diversity on the police force. According to department figures, 19 percent of sworn officers are people of color -- the highest percentage in the department's history. However that still doesn't reflect the city's minority population which is about 33 percent according to the 2000 census.
The most recent department figures show that of 879 officers on the force in 2008, 66 were black, 41 Hispanic, 25 identified as Native American and 30 were Asian Americans.
Members of some immigrant groups have urged Dolan to hire more officers of color and assign them to work in the communities where there are high concentrations of immigrants. Department officials say they've made progress with members of the Somali community. There are two Somali officers working in the Cedar Riverside area.
"That's a good thing. I think they are making difference," said Dahir Jabreel, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.
Jabreel says he would like the police department to add more Somali officers. But after a brief meeting with Dolan earlier this year, he says he thinks the chief is sensitive to the community's concerns.
"He went out of his way. He came to us," said Jabreel. "We were community leaders. He had a warm handshake with us. He promised us, right there, that he wants to meet with us. Particularly, he told me he wants to meet with me. And my impression was really positive."
Department officials say the Juvenile Unit has collaborated with a Somali community group on a youth diversion program.
Members of the city's Hmong community have made similar demands on the police department. Last year a University of Minnesota study found that in north Minneapolis, Hmong residents are nearly 11 percent of the population -- but less than 2 percent of the officers who serve the north side are Hmong.
The study was prompted after two high-profile clashes between police officers and members of the Hmong community in north Minneapolis.
In one case, a police SWAT team mistakenly raided the home of a Hmong family. The study speculates the mistake could have been avoided had there been a Hmong officer present to translate for the frightened family.
In 2006, officer Jason Andersen shot and killed a 19-year-old Hmong man named Fong Lee. Lee's family sued Andersen. But a jury found Andersen not guilty of using excessive force.
Despite the verdict, Dolan fired Andersen in September 2009, and didn't provide a reason for the termination. At the time, Police Federation attorney Ann Walther speculated that Andersen -- who'd also been recently cleared of domestic assault charges -- had become a PR nightmare for the department.
"This case represents one more situation where we believe the administration singles out certain officers for unjustly harsh treatment," said Walther. "We intend to fight this termination on arbitration, and we are confident we will prevail."
Calls to the Police Federation to check the status of the arbitration were not returned. But the case highlights the debate over Dolan's record on officer discipline.
On one side are members of the union who say Dolan's disciplinary decisions are arbitrary and too harsh. According to department data, in three years Dolan has fired 10 officers, and seven others have resigned. Former Chief Robert Olson, who was in office for nine years, oversaw 16 firings and 15 resignations.
Other critics, like Dave Bicking, say Dolan is too lenient. Bicking is a member of the Civilian Review Authority or CRA. The authority investigates complaints against officers, makes determinations and then sends the sustained complaints to Dolan to mete out punishment.
"We find that virtually every time we send that to the chief for discipline, there is no discipline -- or in a few cases, very, very weak discipline," said Bicking.
A few weeks ago, Bicking announced that he and another city resident were filing a court action to force Dolan to discipline officers who are the subject of sustained complaints. A CRA study found that over a 10-month period beginning in January 2008, Dolan disciplined officers in only three of 25 cases.
Dolan declined to talk to MPR for this story. But he did talk about the findings of the CRA report and the lawsuit a few weeks ago when the suit was filed.
"We're only going to discipline when we think the discipline is appropriate, and it's a fair process," said Dolan. "And we are working with CRA to make sure that that's the case."
In a written response later, Dolan added that many of the cases they received were minor infractions from prior years. And he said the department couldn't discipline officers in these cases because they were "beyond reasonable periods of reckoning."
Dolan also disciplines officers who are investigated by the department's Internal Affairs Unit. In 2008 there were 24 sustained cases that resulted in discipline. In a quarter of the cases, the chief fired the officer. In 2007 there were 30 such cases. Dolan fired three of those officers.
Members of the City Council will have the final say on Dolan's future. A few have already voiced reservations about the chief's budget problems. The department went over budget by $5 million in 2006. It overspent by $3.3 million in 2007, however some of that is due to the collapse of the I-35W bridge. And the department burst its 2009 budget by $4.2 million.
Council Members will vote on the chief's nomination next week.