When R.T. Rybak brought Bill McManus to town to head the MPD, both men talked big about reforming the troubled department. But when the chief ran into political resistance, some say, the mayor blinked. Now their relationship has hit the skids, and the fut


When R.T. Rybak picked William P. McManus to be Minneapolis police chief in December 2003, he had several pressing reasons to bring a reformer to town. Some were political. During the long run-up to his 2001 mayoral victory, Rybak had scored big by outflanking the African American incumbent, Sharon Sayles Belton, on issues of race and the long-troubled MPD. He repeatedly assailed her record on adding more officers of color to the police force, and proclaimed that one of his first priorities, if elected, would be to make the chief more accountable on minority relations.

Beyond the matter of campaign promises, there was a score to settle as well: After winning election, Rybak had turned around and lost his inaugural battle with the old guard at the police department when he stuck his neck out and proposed a buyout of the remainder of then-Chief Robert Olson's contract. The City Council spurned the mayor, voting to keep Olson on the job until his deal expired.

Rybak's other reason for reaching out to a candidate capable of kicking ass and taking names was the state of the department and its public image. In the two years prior to McManus's appointment, the MPD had suffered one high-profile embarrassment after another. In March 2002, officers fatally shot a mentally ill Somali man on Franklin Avenue when he refused to drop the machete he was holding. The outcry over unnecessary force had barely died down in August of that year, when the wounding of an 11-year-old by a stray police bullet during a botched north Minneapolis drug raid led to rioting on surrounding streets that night. The very next day a federal mediator named Patricia Campbell Glenn, who had already been reviewing MPD policies and practices, came to town to tour the wreckage in the Jordan neighborhood. She began a Department of Justice inquiry into the MPD's troubles that led to the eventual formation of the Police Community Relations Council to monitor the department's progress in cleaning up its act.

While all this was still going on, an undercover cop named Duy Ngo was wounded by an assailant in south Minneapolis in the wee hours of February 25, 2003. Ngo called for backup, and other Minneapolis police officers arrived on the scene shortly—where one promptly mistook Ngo for his assailant and shot him several more times (see "Shot to Hell," CP 5/21/03). Ngo nearly died as a result of the multiple gunshots, and by June had filed a civil suit against the city and the department. In fact, lawsuits occasioned by charges of MPD misconduct had been a steady drain on city coffers for years. As CP reported in June of this year ("The Hit Parade," 6/23), the city of Minneapolis paid out over $9.5 million in claims resulting from MPD actions during the decade from 1995-2004, or nearly a million dollars a year. (In St. Paul, where cumulative stats on police lawsuit payouts only go back to 1998, the seven-year total for '98-'04 came to just over $800,000, representing an average yearly cost to the city of about $100,000—roughly one-tenth of what Minneapolis spends in a typical year.)

Against this backdrop, the last six finalists for the chief's job included three black men (Herman Curry Jr. from Detroit; Joseph Samuels Jr. from Richmond, California; and Montgomery County, Maryland, Sheriff Charles Moose, then a media darling for his role in apprehending the Washington, D.C.-area sniper in 2002); two veteran female cops from the MPD (Deputy Chiefs Sharon Lubinski and Lucy Gerold); and McManus, a former Washington, D.C., assistant chief and more recently the chief of the Dayton, Ohio, PD.

But if McManus was the only white guy on the list, he was also the one with the most vociferous support from minority communities, both back in Dayton and here in Minneapolis. And it was clear to everybody that he wasn't afraid to shake up police business-as-usual, as demonstrated by the vote of no confidence he had received from the Dayton police union following changes he made in that department. Locally, the Black Police Officers Federation and the Coalition of Black Churches announced their endorsement of McManus. (One factor, according to Ron Edwards: Representatives of numerous African American organizations invited each of the out-of-town candidates to breakfast, and only McManus accepted.)

But for all the lip service around City Hall to reforming the MPD, Rybak had to spend a lot of political capital on McManus's hiring. The main source of resistance was the City Council, where Rybak had to line up enough votes to ratify his choice. The majority of council members entered the process favoring one or another of the MPD's three prominent internal candidates (Gerold, Lubiniski, and Tim Dolan, who was already out of the running by the time the finalists' list was narrowed to six), and initially there was some doubt as to whether Rybak could gather the seven votes he needed on the 13-seat council.

The City Council's hometown bias was partly a reflection of the Minneapolis Police Federation's political clout. The cops' union did not want a wild card from outside the department; many of its members still harbored memories of the last crusading police chief to come to town, Tony Bouza, who served as chief from 1980 to 1988, grabbed many headlines in the process, and fought the union tooth and nail much of the time. The day McManus's appointment was announced, union head John Delmonico skipped the event at City Hall. He said the point of his gesture was to register his disapproval to Rybak.

« Previous Page
Next Page »