Weathering the Storm

MPD chief William McManus on his early tenure

The following is an extended version of a Q&A that appeared in the paper edition of City Pages

Since becoming chief of the Minneapolis Police in February, William McManus has been praised by some as the reformer the department so desperately needed and criticized by others for operating too rashly.

One of McManus's first moves on the job was to suspend three top-ranking officers who were involved in the investigation surrounding Duy Ngo, a Minneapolis cop who was shot while working undercover, first by an unknown assailant and later by a fellow police officer. In February, McManus called for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate the department's handling of the investigation one year after the Ngo incident. McManus was roundly criticized in the media and in City Hall for suspending the three officers while the BCA looked into the matter. (The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.)

The outsider: Chief McManus's no-nonsense approach has sparked controversies
Marie Foss
The outsider: Chief McManus's no-nonsense approach has sparked controversies

McManus also raised eyebrows with a number of administrative shuffles that promoted some cops and transferred others who had been high up in his predecessor's administration. More recently, McManus has come under fire for insisting that the death of a Minneapolis man while in custody be investigated internally, something he says will become regular policy for the MPD. And finally, questions about McManus's ability to protect and serve have been raised as well. He hasn't yet taken the exam to get his peace officer's license in Minnesota, meaning he can't carry a gun or wear a uniform, and he hasn't been cleared by the FBI to receive briefs on homeland security issues. (McManus has said he's studying and will take the test.)

But McManus has a reputation from his stint as an officer in Washington, D.C., and his tenure as police chief in Dayton, Ohio, for being a capable, no-nonsense cop. Publicly, his remarks are clipped and he rarely smiles. In person, he's prone to talking about policing strategies in great detail, and shares anecdotes from his nearly 30 years in law enforcement.

He's currently living in a church in north Minneapolis, waiting for his wife and three children (one was born after McManus came to Minneapolis) to move here from Dayton. I spoke with him there recently about his relatively rough start on the job.

City Pages: You've had a number of controversial moments on the job so far. Did you expect some of these things to be as controversial as they were?

Chief McManus: No. And I guess most of it is just a matter of a learning experience. A lot of it is just not understanding the culture--the departmental culture, the political culture--here.

CP: Would you have done some things differently in retrospect?

McManus: I don't want to go into Duy Ngo. That's still an ongoing investigation. But there are some other issues, like the promotions and transfers, as well. Would I have done it differently? I understand now that the council would have appreciated having some conversation about it, and I certainly would have done that.

CP: One of the things that was striking was that when you suspended the three officers, you did call every council member.

McManus: I called every one of them.

CP: Why did you feel in that case, you should let them know?

McManus: Because it was significant. Significant and something they should know.

CP: But again the nature of that call was not necessarily a consultation, but a heads-up.

McManus: Well, it had already been done.

CP: You talk about the political climate, and it is kind of tricky. One of the things people say is that there are an awful lot of council members for a city of this size. And a powerful council at that. Is dealing with such a strong City Council something you weren't counting on when you were walking into the job?

McManus: I guess my main focus was on my direct report. I'm directly reporting to the mayor. And I'm not publicly naive. I know that there's council involvement with other departments, but again, it's more a matter of figuring out the best way to do that.

CP: How are things going with the mayor? The relationship between him and your predecessor was strained a lot of the time. And I find, from what I can tell of you and the mayor, you seem to be a yin-yang as far as personalities are concerned. Are you reporting to him directly regularly, or has he kind of given you free rein?

McManus: Well, I have free rein, but I certainly consult with him when there are issues I believe may be controversial or are bigger than just the police department.

I've been hearing a lot about Murderapolis since I got here. Well, Murderapolis, the city doesn't have to get that name--the city doesn't have to have murders all over the city to get that name. You confine them to very small areas, and the whole city gets labeled. So, last year, we spent 50 grand or so, by getting officers from another police force, a smaller police department, to come over here to assist us, and we shouldn't have to go to a smaller police department to do that. There's creative staffing, and some creative scheduling to do that ourselves could save the taxpayers money.

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