Weathering the Storm

MPD chief William McManus on his early tenure

And all of a sudden these drums start to beat, and you hear this crowd in the distance. And they're getting closer and closer. All of a sudden, they got louder and louder, and they kind of emerged from the fog. I'm standing there like, "God, look at this." I don't know where they're going or what they're going to do. So I walk out on the street, and I'm right in the middle of the intersection, no cars there. I walk off to the side. I'm not sure what's going on. They stopped in the middle of the intersection. Their ultimate goal was to take over the intersection. They had those sleeping dragons, those interlocking pipes, they're called sleeping dragons.

There's a huge crowd, and I'm standing there watching, and all of a sudden the outer ring sat down in the street, to reveal that the whole inner ring had hooked themselves up with the sleeping dragons. That's how they did that. Conceal the inner ring, and then they were there. What they were waiting for was a confrontation. What they wanted was for me to call in the troops and try to remove them.

Well, I didn't. I called into the command center that they were there in the intersection, had traffic blocked. I let them stay there. And they sat there for a couple of hours. Then I guess they got tired of it, and got up and walked away.

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

CP: That's one story I'm familiar with. But there were other stories of arrests and violence.

McManus: There were. But a lot of the arrests were not in the eye of the demonstration. They were out on the peripheral, where a lot of commanders were isolated from their backups. Things like that. There were outbreaks of severe violence on the part of the demonstrators. They tried to breach a perimeter, and there wasn't any de-escalating that. They were trying to tear fences down. So, at that point, you have to respond with enough force to overcome that. At that time, we had to respond and overcome that.

CP: Have you learned anything from what happened in Seattle and what you went through in D.C.? Are there different practices to put in place?

McManus: I think Seattle could have happened in any city. They just happened to be the first one; they were the guinea pigs. I don't think Seattle was expecting what happened to happen.

You've got to be prepared. You can't expect that nothing's going to happen or it's only going to escalate to a certain point. Or that demonstrators aren't going to try and do so much. You've got to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

CP: But isn't it sometimes true that the more police presence there is, the more hostile the situation is?

McManus: And that's a good point. You're absolutely right. When you do that, it raises the ante when you've got everybody out there. You've got to properly staff to do these things, but it's your tactics, your strategy that de-escalates the situation.

CP: I don't think anybody expects protestors and police to walk arm-in-arm down the street either. By their nature, in these situations, conflict is almost inevitable.

McManus: I've found most demonstrators, the organized ones, to be very communicative. We met with them on numerous occasions before anything took place. Them telling us what we could expect, telling us, "Hey we want to be arrested, we want about 100 people arrested, we're prepared for it."

There were demonstrators who were not cooperative at all, and they were the more unorganized. Talking about de-escalation, we never went at them until they were breaking bottles and [things] started being thrown. That kind of stuff will cost you a knot on the head.

CP: Not long afterward you were a finalist to be chief in Seattle. What drew you to that?

McManus: A bigger city, big city, a diverse city. I never really had aspirations to be chief, then every now and then I started getting calls from various recruiters. It sparked my interest.

CP: That's interesting, because the knock on you coming out of Dayton to here was, "Well, he's a careerist at this point, and is using Minneapolis as a stepping stone, and he was only here for a little while."

McManus: Actually, my term was short in Dayton because I didn't have a contract. It was not their policy to give contracts out to department heads. So I had spoken to my city manager about it. As things started moving, a year and a half into my term there, and the union was not real pleased with some of the changes I had made, I went to my city manager and said, "Do you want me to back off on some of these things and kind of mind the shop and not do anything?" And he said, "No, I want you to keep making the changes you're making, and make sure they're paced properly." And I said, "Well, you know, if you were to quit tomorrow, they'd try to ride me out of here on a rail." The union is very, very strong in Dayton. With my style and what I want to do, it's not useful for me to not have a contract.

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