And Then There Was One

Rybak picks a reformer for the MPD

Saturday afternoon's press conference trumpeting R.T. Rybak's choice of William McManus to be the next chief of Minneapolis Police had an air of big-city politics not often found at City Hall. The mayor and his chief-in-waiting stood before a backdrop of roughly 30 city and community leaders, and another 100 or so mingled with a substantial media horde in the rotunda. There was a legitimate buzz.

One of the more compelling elements of the hour was the makeup of the onlookers: Minorities and people of color outnumbered whites. Many of them supported the choice. Just as notable, however, was who was not there. "I'm looking for John Delmonico," McManus said during his brief remarks, referring to the head of the Minneapolis Police Federation. "I'm going to try to get him to usher me around to roll calls this afternoon."

Delmonico could have had any number of reasons for not attending, of course, but the apparent snub was hard to ignore. In Dayton, Ohio, where he has been chief since November 2001, McManus has a gained a reputation for challenging the police union there. In August, the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police issued a unanimous vote of "no confidence" in McManus, something he shrugged off on Saturday. The vote, he insisted, had to do with two major policy changes he implemented: restricting high-speed police chases and banning officers from shooting at or from moving vehicles. He also prohibited racial profiling practices by the department.

"It was a culmination of what had happened found in the vote," McManus said. "But I'm not here to knock the FOP." He quickly added: "I'm not coming in here with a preconceived notion to change anything."

That may be true, strictly speaking, but McManus seems to be that rare police executive who is serious about reforming certain aspects of how cops do their jobs, particularly where encounters with other races and cultures are concerned, and--this is the key--is not afraid to alienate a few rank-and-file cops if that's the price of the ticket. It would be fascinating to see how he navigates the darker corners of the MPD, with its seemingly intractable history of race- and community-relations troubles.

But first his appointment has to survive the fire it is already receiving from those forces in the MPD and on the City Council who believe that a) the department is less in need of reform than advertised, and b) a local cop ought to get the job.

In choosing as he has, Rybak has incurred the wrath of his one-time allies at the police union. For more than two years, when he was campaigning to be mayor, Rybak spoke plainly, if broadly, about transforming the MPD; yet somehow he earned the endorsement of the change-wary federation. It has long been rumored that Rybak won the union's nod with a promise to oust Chief Robert Olson, something both sides have always denied. But the notion that the mayor was too chummy with the federation has stuck, and Rybak has clearly been uncomfortable with it. "I don't have any allies at the federation," he insisted to me three weeks ago.

Earlier this month, Delmonico made it clear where his loyalties were. "I'm an internal person all the way," he said at the time. "I don't think our officers need to be shook up."

By late Saturday afternoon, inside observers were saying that Delmonico was angry with the choice, something he readily admits. "I'm willing to work with anybody and listen to anybody who is going to be chief," Delmonico says. "Me not being there Saturday has nothing to do with [McManus], it has everything to do with the mayor and how he handled this."

 

On paper, McManus comes with plenty of bona fides. After graduating with a liberal arts degree from Villanova University, McManus joined the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., in 1975. He glided through the ranks rather easily, and by 1999 he was an assistant chief of police. His résumé boasts that he "played a leadership role in planning the successful decentralization, reorganization, and reform of the department." He also claims to have reduced police shootings by 70 percent in 1999 and 2000 "through training and policy changes."

While in Dayton, McManus claims to have "significantly improved community, news media, and regional relationships through cooperation, communication, and information sharing," and implemented a response team to more effectively deal with mentally ill suspects. In D.C., he oversaw as many as 1,200 sworn officers and a $77 million budget. In Dayton, McManus managed a department of 512 officers and $49 million in operations. In Minneapolis, there are nearly 800 officers and $100 million in the budget.

What is perhaps most surprising about the McManus appointment is how little opposition it has drawn from minority leaders in town, most of whom have been longtime critics of the MPD. In fact, McManus has earned the blessing of the Coalition of Black Churches and the African American Leadership Council. "In interviews, no one but him took a strong stand on police brutality issues," claims activist Spike Moss, citing the community relations McManus built in Dayton, an industrial city where half of the 166,000 residents are black. "He has a past history of taking on the federation. Washington to us black folk is Chocolate City, and if he can handle that, he can handle Minneapolis."

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