MPD Scandals, Continued: A Primer

The Duy Ngo case: McManus bets the farm; Will Olson land on the hot seat?

That's not the worst of it. McManus was ticketed for a bumpy ride with the police union by the time he arrived; the fallout in his relationship with the City Council could be far more damaging. Owing to the vagaries of Minneapolis's "weak mayor" system, McManus's patron and ally Rybak has limited power to shield his chief from the wrath of the City Council if its members turn on him.

And the City Council has always been divided on the question of McManus. Six members went on the record backing the appointment when it was announced in December: Barret Lane, Natalie Johnson Lee, Paul Ostrow, Don Samuels, Paul Zerby, and Dean Zimmermann. But that was one shy of the majority required for approval on the 13-member council, many of whose members openly favored one of the local applicants. Not until a couple of days before the January 16 vote was it publicly evident that Rybak would even get his council majority. In the end, Scott Benson, Gary Schiff, and council power broker Barb Johnson swung over and voted for McManus. Four members voted against him: Lisa Goodman, Robert Lilligren, Dan Niziolek, and Sandra Colvin Roy.

Wittingly or not, McManus has wagered a great deal on the outcome of this case: his credibility with cops and city officials; his political viability in his job--and to a considerable extent, Rybak's; and more broadly, the long-range cause of reforming and opening up the Minneapolis Police Department. Those who say that the case will make or break McManus's tenure as chief may be speaking precipitously, but it does not necessarily mean they're wrong. There are many at City Hall who did not really believe the MPD was in need of serious reform in the first place. If McManus's first dustup with the status quo bears no tangible fruit, their hand will only be strengthened.

Local activist and critic Ron Edwards, who supported McManus's selection, believes the new chief is too savvy at both police work and politics to make such a play without good cause. But if nothing comes of the BCA investigation, Edwards cautions, the situation "becomes an instrument for those who don't want to change anything. It becomes an exit for those who want to resist reform. And in that case, this chief could have one of the shortest tenures ever."

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