Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan reflects on career, lessons learned as he steps downby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — After nearly 30 years on the force, Police Chief Tim Dolan is retiring at the end of this week.
During the past six years with Dolan as chief, reported violent crime in the city has decreased. But over the years, Dolan has also faced criticism for budget problems and expensive officer misconduct settlements.
At a retirement reception earlier this week in Minneapolis, Assistant Chief Janee Harteau, who will replace Dolan later this year, presented him with the traditional plaque and then something unexpected.
Harteau unwrapped a black- and gold-striped hockey jersey that had been autographed by members of the police department. The insignia reads 'Minneapolis Police Department' and the colors resemble DeLasalle, the Catholic high school Dolan graduated from 40 years ago.
Dolan's first job in law enforcement was as a Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputy in 1979. He joined the Minneapolis Police Department as a patrol officer in 1983. A lot has changed about police work over the years, Dolan said, especially when it comes to situations officers face. He said when he started there was no formal plan for how to handle a mass shooting in a workplace or school where the gunman may still be present.
"The active shooter protocol when I was a young officer on the street was you kind of put the blinders on and ran in there and see what you could do," Dolan said.
Dolan was out of town last month on the day gunman Andrew Engledinger opened fire at Accent Signage in north Minneapolis and killed seven people, including himself. Dolan flew back to Minneapolis to be with his officers and shooting victims. Dolan says the first officers to enter the building did not know if the gunman was still lurking. The officers had to help the wounded while they kept an eye out for danger.
Dolan praised the officers, saying "Since Columbine we've had a lot of training; two mass trainings on active shooter training. And they followed that to a 'T.'"
Besides new training, Dolan has also helped usher in technological advances, including the electronic gunshot detection system called Shotspotter, and the widespread use of video cameras in squad cars.
The police department has also become more racially diverse under Dolan. Including the class of newest recruits, Dolan said officers of color make up more than 20 percent of the force. While that is the most diverse the department has ever been, that number falls short of matching the racial makeup of the city, which is more than 30 percent racial minorities.
The changing ranks also brought challenges Dolan admits he did not handle very well.
In 2007, five black lieutenants, each with at least 18 years experience on the force, sued the department for discrimination. The city paid a $740,000 settlement to the officers. The officers alleged that the department had a climate of racial hostility and that it worsened under Dolan. Two of the five officers said Dolan unfairly disciplined and transferred them. Dolan said his personnel decisions were not racially motivated.
"That was more of a novice chief probably not knowing how important those race issues were within the department," Dolan said. "We made some moves here that probably could have been made better."
Bill English, who heads the African American Leadership Summit, an activist group that has been at odds with Dolan and the Minneapolis Police Department over a number of issues, criticized Dolan, saying "I think he made a huge mistake around the black police officer's thing."
Over the years, English and other black community leaders have accused Dolan of not doing enough to crack down on racial profiling and incidents of police brutality.
In Dolan's first three years as chief, the city paid out more than $1.5 million to settle officer misconduct lawsuits, not including the black officers' discrimination lawsuit settlement. In 2011, the city paid $2.1 million in damages, compensation and attorney's fees to the family of an unarmed African American man who was shot and killed by police officers. So far this year, the city has paid over $160,000 for police misconduct cases.
However, English attended Dolan's retirement party at city hall to shake the chief's hand and wish him well. English said Dolan made progress in improving relationships between the police and minority communities.
"Tim was always willing to listen. That was a credit to him. He was willing to listen," English said. "To how much credit we have for pushing him in the right direction? I'm not sure. I won't take credit for that."
Dolan says he has worked hard to crack down on officers who have crossed the line. Some say Dolan has been too harsh. Attorney Gregg Corwin has represented Minneapolis police officers who have fought their termination and won. Police officers are union employees and entitled to contest disciplinary actions they feel are unfair. Corwin said the problem is that Dolan has been too rigid in negotiations.
"We've tried to compromise and make settlement offers that we thought were reasonable and you just can't settle with him. It's almost impossible to settle with him because he's so inflexible," Corwin said. "I think he really looks at discipline more in a punitive manner than a corrective manner."
Dolan does not apologize for his record on disciplinary action. He finds it interesting that he is being criticized by some for being too hard on cops, while the city's Civilian Review Authority has accused him of being too reluctant to impose sanctions on officers.
Dolan has also faced criticism from elected officials for police department budget problems. In 2010, five city council members voted against confirming him for a second term. Most of them pointed out that under Dolan the department went over budget in three of his first four years as chief. The hardest part about creating a police budget, Dolan said, is accounting for unexpected events, such as last month's mass shooting, which require officers to work a lot of overtime.
Dolan budgeted better during his second term as chief. The department went more than $1 million below its 2011 budget, allowing the rehiring of some officers who had been recently laid off.
Since Dolan took over, the city has also experienced steadily declining numbers of reported violent crime. However, in 2012 robberies, assaults, rapes and homicides increased slightly over this time last year. Dolan said the department's focus on reducing youth violence is responsible for much of the overall drop in violent crime. When Dolan took over in 2006, he restarted the department's juvenile crime unit and devoted resources to cracking down on truancy and curfew violations.
Though Dolan will leave the office and the career behind, he says he will likely still be an advocate for issues he has become passionate about over the years, like the adoption of stricter gun laws in the state and the nation. At 57, Dolan said now is a good time to retire and start the next phase of his life.
"My goal here as a chief was basically to be when I left, to be able to still look at that person in the mirror and say I still feel good about that person," Dolan said. "And I do."
Dolan's replacement, Janee Harteau, is expected to become the city's first female police chief in December.
- Morning Edition, 10/31/2012, 8:40 a.m.