Embattled Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau held the first in a series of monthly "Chat with the Chief" events at the 2nd Precinct in northeast Minneapolis yesterday. The idea, hatched after three public forums last month, is to give each city resident five minutes to sit down with the chief in a one-on-one setting to air concerns.
"Maybe people weren't comfortable standing up in front of 100, 200 people to say what they want to say," said Minneapolis Police Public Information Officer John Elder last night. "We want to everyone to have an opportunity to give feedback in an environment where they're comfortable."
The handful of people that did show up last night were expecting another public forum.
After getting buzzed through the doors to the precinct most looked around and asked where the meeting was being held. When the "Chat with the Chief" concept was explained people signed up on a yellow legal pad and awkwardly waited for their turn in the lobby.
Longtime gadflies Chuck Turchick and Dave Bicking sat in one corner the entire night, keeping a running commentary and peppering everyone with questions.
"I don't know if I'm going to have enough time to get all of my questions in," said Turchick looking over a notecard. "I'm going to have to talk fast."
A downtown bar owner who lives in Northeast (he asked not to be named) said he came mostly praise the department.
"Their response time and professionalism downtown is awesome," he said shortly before his turn. Afterward he said the one-on-one setting "was an interesting dynamic. It's a wide-open forum to say whatever you want."
"I was going to tell her a joke but I forgot," he added. "I was going to tell her, you know, the older generation in Northeast used to take care of our neighborhood, that's something these younger guys need to learn."
Then the joke: "Guess what: No one broke into Delmonico's for 50 years," he said, referring to the business the head of the police union's family ran in Northeast for 85 years.
The only fireworks of the night came when activist Steve Shagwell (real name: Stephen Wolfe) showed up with a motley crew of friends and a camera. After being told he couldn't film inside the precinct he stormed out.
Later a compromise was found: He wouldn't be allowed to film while he was with Harteau, but he could have a witness stand with him inside the room.
A middle-aged woman named Jan said her interaction with Harteau went "just fine," when Turchick quizzed her on her time with the chief.
Jan wants more resources to go to the 2nd Precinct, which has led the city in crime reduction for two straight years.
"The population here is growing very rapidly and it's going to take time for policing to keep up," she said.
While Shagwell was with the chief one of his friends stepped up to the cop behind the glass and defiantly asked, "What does the police's role of guardian mean?"
The cop smirked, paused, and responded: "Google it."
Shagwell emerged with a positive outlook.
"Obviously I still have a lot of concerns and a five-minute talk barely scratches the surface, but it's a baby step in the right direction," he said. "More than anything I came out with a bit more understanding of the challenges that need to be dealt with on both sides."
"Or maybe I'm being played for a chump, who knows?" he added.