Mr. FixIt

Minneapolis Police Chief Bob Olson came to town with a reputation for pleasing pols and infuriating cops. And he's surpassed himself on both counts.

Olson, who faced similar complaints in at least two of his previous jobs, says he's doing his best. "I've told all my commanders, I want diversity and equal opportunity for all my employees, and I want them to always have that in consideration. In fact, I had a chart done for our group of African-American community leaders outlining where all of our African-Americans were when I came here, and where they are today. I'm proud of that."

Olson's chart does show that many black officers, along with other minorities and women, have better assignments now than when he started. That's earned him praise from community leaders. But at the same time, the chief so far has failed to produce significant progress on minority hiring and promotion. To wit:

* In January of 1995, almost 15 percent of the MPD's sworn officers were people of color. Two years later, the figure stands at 15.7 percent.

* Of the 160 officers hired on Olson's watch, just over 15 percent were minorities. Of the 25 recruits of color, seven were African-Americans.

* In 1995, 19 of the department's 223 sergeants were minorities. As of Feb. 1 this year, there were 20 sergeants of color. (The figures look slightly better for lieutenants, the next-higher rank: In 1997, six of the 43 lieutenants are minorities, up from three when Olson came.)

* In the Fourth Precinct, which serves the neighborhoods with the highest African-American populations, there is not a single black sergeant.

Asked about those numbers, Olson says it's too early to judge him. "We're plodding along wherever opportunities present themselves. It's always my last resort to make people do things, though sometimes you have to do that. But we've made really good strides in many of our units, and we will make a lot more. It takes some time."

Right now, though, it looks as if the black cops are tired of waiting. The community group they asked to intervene is due to present its report to the City Council any day now; Edwards, who serves on the citizens' panel, says it will be pretty thin. Their best option, the group has told the black officers, is to go ahead and sue.

So here, in a nutshell, is Olson's record in Minneapolis so far: more neighborhood cops; a bigger budget; a series of popular programs; no more really ugly headlines. Record stress; a potential multimillion-dollar lawsuit; and a workforce full of resentment.

Not bad for starters, says Olson. "My job here is not to make people happy. I'm here to run this police department. The things I needed to do haven't been easy things, but we're a lot farther along than I thought we'd be at this stage." He cocks his head again in that trademark manner, and it's hard to believe he's in any kind of trouble.

And so far he isn't. The mayor who appointed him seems headed for an easy re-election; City Council members, despite the occasional gripe, aren't giving him much grief. Neighborhood types, though less enthusiastic than they once were, are keeping quiet. And early this year, Olson's face was all over the news, beaming over a 3 percent reduction in the city's overall crime as measured by the FBI.

But the bliss may not last. "We're seeing a different mood in the city," says one advocate, who asks not to be named because he works with Olson. "A lot of people aren't interested in calling the police because they don't trust them. So you get vendettas, retaliation and so on, in addition to the seething anger that goes back to the stop-and-search operations [like Safe Streets]. And I personally think we're in for a real shock. This whole thing with the welfare situation and so many people being cut off assistance is very dangerous.

"And what you have is a chief who leaves the impression that things are under control, and that when people are discontented, it's because they are the problem. I've never yet heard him say anything else."

Online editor Jennifer Vogel and news intern Todd Renschler contributed to this story.

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