Mr. FixIt

The chief stands very straight facing the politicians, a phalanx of cops at his back. They glower at him from the wooden benches of the Minneapolis City Council chambers, three rows deep of black leather jackets. They're members of the Emergency Response Unit, the department's SWAT team, here to tell the politicians that they're resigning their high-risk assignments. The chief, they say, has humiliated and ignored them, putting their lives at risk for political gain.


Robert Olson's gaze is hard. He's been trying to deal with the complaints, he tells the politicians; he's always willing to listen to his employees. But he won't be bullied: It's a matter of "who's running the department, me or they." The officers stare after him when he leaves. He doesn't stare back. There is sarcasm in their eyes, disappointment, bitterness--and, behind it all, the unmistakable gleam of hatred.

Two years after being appointed to fix Minnesota's most notorious police force, Olson is presiding over a department in the throes of a mutiny. Crises under his watch have included the near-breakdown of the homicide unit; the continuing walkout of the ERU; and the threat of a lawsuit from minority officers. Not to mention the growing bitterness on the streets, where new policing initiatives have disproportionately targeted the young, poor, and black.

In another city, Olson might be a very controversial man by now. He became one in the three places where he worked before coming here. But members of the search committee that hired him say they were encouraged to focus on his stellar credentials, not poke around his history. Ever since then Olson has been sailing along, powered by a winning public persona, a sympathetic political establishment, and a city's desperate need for reassurance. It's only recently that the Teflon has begun to crack. And the funny thing is that right now, no one seems to know what lies beneath.

Perhaps the best way to get a bead on Bob Olson is to take a look around his office. On the door, there's his uniform, rarely worn--he prefers a suit--but accessorized with a pin that spells "ATTITUDE." A rock on his desk bears the same message, and so does his coffee mug. The mementos were given to him by a former boss, but their prominent display indicates more than sentimental attachment. Sure enough, there's a mantra in the making. Olson has taken to handing out ATTITUDE pins at department promotion ceremonies, and they're among the few items cops are allowed to wear on their uniforms.

"Everything is predicated on attitude," he explains. "If you can change attitudes, you can change the world. And you have to always focus on that. It's not what you did, but how you did it."

Olson has a way of doing this--offering up a cliché with the demeanor of someone disclosing a profoundly original thought. His conversation is peppered with buzzwords ("empowerment"; "leadership"); they're delivered earnestly, often trailing lengthy explanations. Earnest yet folksy, competent but not intimidating, he comes off a little like a small-town preacher, especially when he cocks his head and looks up at his interlocutor as if to encourage confession. But the longer you watch, the more he comes to resemble a corporate middle manager on the way up--not one of those young, hard-nosed MBAs, but the friendly boss who will ask about your kids one day, and hand you a pink slip with a smile and the phone number of the relocation office the next.

As it turns out, the perception isn't that far off. Olson is one of a new breed of top cops schooled not on the streets, but in management seminars and academic discussions. Even as a rookie patrolling Omaha neighborhoods on a three-wheel Harley, he acknowledges, he knew that "someday, I wanted to be a chief."

Olson began his career as a whiz kid. Born in St. Paul and raised in Fargo and Omaha, he was one of that city's first college-trained cadets. At a time when policing was just beginning its shift from a blue-collar job to a professional career, he rose through the ranks faster than any officer in the department's history. By age 36, he was Omaha's youngest deputy chief ever, well on his way to taking the last step.

But then he got tripped up. Omaha's mayor, a colorful machine politician, didn't like it when his brother-in-law was arrested for drunken driving. He liked it even less when officers came forward to say the arrest had come after a surveillance program. Olson said he knew nothing about it; the mayor fired him anyway. Olson appealed the case and lost all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Olson has been asked about the incident many times, and he has his answer down pat. He was the victim, he says, of an alcoholic mayor with delusions of grandeur. He would never have appealed had he known how politicized the process was. And, all said and done, "I should be thankful, because it forced me to go out into the market and I've had a very rewarding career since then."  

What Olson doesn't say is why his firing was upheld. There was, the Nebraska high court concluded, "substantial evidence in the record upon which [officials] could determine that Olson knew of the arrest plan and lied during the internal police investigation." That decision has been making the rounds among Olson detractors in the MPD; it's dragged out especially when the chief disciplines someone for not being truthful. At one point, Olson felt compelled to send out a memo reiterating that "I did nothing wrong and was a victim of politics and a very ruthless mayor."

It seems as if that mayor wasn't the only one who disliked Olson. When he took office in Minneapolis, the Police Federation received a "Thoughts of Deep and Sincere Sympathy" card signed by more than a dozen Omaha cops. "You have 10,000 lakes," one wrote. "Find one!"

Though the Omaha firing has been more publicized locally than anything else in Olson's past, it wasn't the only problem haunting his career. His next job took him to Corpus Christi, a South Texas city where local pols wanted an executive-style chief with academic credentials (Olson holds a master's degree in criminal justice) to turn around a department thus far run by its own.

Veterans of Olson's administration give him credit for "some good ideas," including decentralizing the downtown headquarters. But most of the chief's tenure, they say, was consumed by controversy. "His qualifications looked good on paper," says Isaac Valencia, president of the Corpus Christi Police Officers Association, "but it turned out that he wasn't seasoned on the streets. That's what happens when people get promoted too fast. He didn't grasp how the decisions he was making would impact the people at the bottom, and he didn't seem to care."

What's more, Valencia and others say, the chief never seemed to connect with the community, especially its Hispanic majority. "He was involved with management and that was the way he worked; he had his own world in there," says Henry Gorham of Corpus Christi's League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). "We expected him to be outgoing and meet the people and build relationships with the different cultures we have here. But we never experienced that." One of LULAC's key complaints--foreshadowing developments in Minneapolis--was that minority cops weren't getting "a fair shake" from the administration; several of them, Gorham says, ended up asking LULAC to mediate for them.

Olson defends his record on diversity, noting that a captain he promoted is now Corpus Christi's first Hispanic chief. But he acknowledges his tenure was rough. "A lot of it was just personality stuff," he says. "There was a whole lot of politics going on there."

Eventually, the politics boiled over. Two years into Olson's term, the city manager who hired him was gone along with most of his allies. The police union decided to start "a full-scale campaign to take our concerns to the public." To kick it off they were going to march on City Hall. The day of the planned protest, Olson resigned.

"I've seen a lot of these guys come and go," says Ron DeLord, who heads Texas's statewide police association. "Personally, I like a lot of them. Olson's a nice fellow. But these are basically TV personalities. They drift around the country and they take these top jobs in places where the leadership for some reason or another wants an outside chief. They talk a good game, they look good, they have the academic background, they make a lot of superficial changes. But they never deal with issues for the long term because they don't intend to stay for the long term. They're politicians, and they wear thin with the politicians."

Within months of leaving Corpus Christi, Olson took his "cutback management skills" to work as commissioner of police in Yonkers, New York. Charged with fixing a corrupt, arrogant department, he clamped down on overtime; broke up special units to put more cops on the streets; and did a lot of demoting and firing. He also instituted a police-community relations task force and supported civilian review of police misconduct. The local NAACP gave him its Freedom Fighter award in 1994.

Again, it didn't all go over well with the rank and file. The police union claimed that Olson's cutbacks were causing shortages in investigative units and training. A woman sued--and won $335,000--claiming Olson had shut her out of a recruit class because she was over 40. And in 1992, Olson was almost blown to bits when someone rigged a bomb to his car. Newspaper accounts speculated about a mob hit. But the police investigation, which never produced a suspect, focused on disgruntled former officers.  

Charles Cola, president of the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association, says he personally found Olson easy to deal with. "When we had disagreements, we could always sit down and work them out." But he also notes that in 1994, as Olson's contract neared its end, his name showed up in chief searches in New Orleans, Toledo, and Tucson. By the time Olson left for Minneapolis, the Yonkers mayor who'd appointed him was headed for an uncertain election.

Olson says he was happy in Yonkers, and everywhere else he's worked. The controversy, he says, was just par for the course. "When you're brought in to change an organization's culture and the way things are always done, that will result in disagreements. In New York, the first couple of years were pretty rough, but as we got toward the end, we got in synch. And that's hopefully what I'd like to see happen here."

Ask Olson what he's most proud of having done since he's been here, and he'll list a familiar series of management changes. He's decentralized the downtown police headquarters, scattering investigators around the precincts. He's replaced sworn officers with civilians in some jobs, and reduced the number of supervisors. He's cracked down on misconduct, speeding up internal investigations and developing a discipline matrix that has, he notes, been sent to "most of the major police departments around the country. San Francisco, Kansas City, a lot of others are very interested."

Olson has also found ways to increase the department's budget with help from federal grants and the mayor (who, one associate notes admiringly, "closed down the health department and put that money into police"). Last year he wrangled the City Council into budgeting for 120 new squad cars and individual radios for each police officer. And he's been more visible than any other police chief (with the exception, of course, of the unforgettable Tony Bouza), encouraging cops to cooperate with reporters and making himself readily accessible. "We need to use the media," he says, "to make sure that our message gets out."

Amid all that action, it's no wonder the grumbling from the rank and file is rarely taken seriously. Most outsiders suspect that when the cops are complaining, Olson must be doing something right. And his supporters in the department say the troops are just leery of change. "Police don't have control over a lot of things in their jobs," notes Inspector Christine Morris, who heads the north side's Fourth Precinct. "They're out there in a fully-marked squad car, in uniform, and things come at them, often life-and-death things. So they dig in their heels on the little stuff."

But inertia alone doesn't explain the depth of resistance to Olson. Cops, while stubborn, are also hierarchy-minded; they work in a paramilitary organization, and they know how to take orders. But that kind of loyalty, many of Olson's critics say, must be earned.

"He's disconnected," says Sgt. Al Berryman, president of the union that represents Minneapolis cops. "I think he's equated vehicles and radios with giving a sign to the people who work for him that he's concerned about them. But I bet you that he couldn't name 50 people in the department. You get the feeling that he tries to keep his relationship on an impersonal, business level. And it shows."

Olson says he can see how officers would feel as if he's distant, considering that his predecessor was a 27-year department veteran who did know most everyone by name. And, he adds, troops are always suspicious of an outside chief: "It takes a while to get over that. But I would hope that anybody who feels that I don't care about them would do something about it. They ought to come in and talk it over. That's why I go out and spend a week in each of the precincts every year. It gives people an opportunity to vent some of that stuff. I hate to have people feel grumpy all the time. It's not good for them."

None of that seems to make much of an impression among the troops--on the contrary. Told of Olson's invitation to "talk things over," one veteran lets out a long, low gurgle. "The word in the department is that if you speak out against this guy he'll cook you," he finally says, demanding not to be identified. "There's always been some of that, but now it's more than ever before. I've worked under eight chiefs and I tell you, this guy is the most feared of all of them.  

"My impression is that he suffers from what the psychologists would call the Little Big Man complex. One of those guys that got kicked around in the past, and now that they've got some authority they're going to use it. Look at the [chief's] uniform he's made for himself. He's got pants with gold stripes down the sides, no one else in the department has those. He has this overcoat with gold braids on it; he's taken the Minneapolis police badge and put gold stripes around it. He's got stars on his collar and this wreath that's basically a merchant marine wreath. He looks like the doorman at the Hilton. And it's all to say, 'I'm the chief, and I dare you to say I'm not.'"

Whether the psychological assessment is correct is hard to say--after all, one of Olson's hallmarks is that no one seems to have much of a clue about him as a person. What is clear from the record is that Olson has followed marching orders from the people who hired him. The judge's verdict from the Mike Sauro police-brutality case--that the city had exhibited "deliberate indifference" to police misconduct--hung heavy over politicians at the time; erasing its blemish, Olson says, was "right at the top of the list of things I was charged with doing."

So far, however, Olson's disciplinary batting average isn't stellar. In his two years as chief he's handed out 14 firings, demotions, and long-term suspensions. Ten of the actions were overturned on appeal. Olson and his supporters say that's because civil-service rules and the union contract infringe on what should be managerial decisions. But his critics counter that that's too easy.

"It's not that some of the people he came down on didn't deserve it," notes another department veteran. "But they didn't do their homework on a lot of the cases. And a lot of what they're doing is just petty. People get in trouble now for not wearing a hat, for showing up five minutes late. They're micromanaging the department to death."

"These are people out here who are adults," adds Sgt. Gerald Moore, who works in the homicide division. "You've given them a badge and a gun, you've told them to go out and do police work. But yet they go in and tell you that your shelves are too high, and your radio can't play anything but the weather channel. People down here are dealing with some of the most gruesome crimes. You need to cut them some slack, not tell them that they can't hang plants from the ceiling, and they can't have a casual day on Fridays and not wear a tie. These are things that start to eat at people."

Olson says he can't remember getting involved in dress and furniture codes, but that he has put supervisors on notice that disciplinary infractions are not to be tolerated: "So [their superior] made them dress up a little bit? Made them wear a tie? I don't see what's wrong with that."

Critics say it's that kind of response that has been causing some of the department's best-respected cops to bail out. The homicide unit has been hit especially hard by retirements, resulting in a full-fledged crisis last summer. Caseloads went through the roof for the detectives who remained. Prosecutors were sending files back because they didn't contain enough information to press charges. And more and more cases were being "redlined," not investigated at all.

All of which makes even cops who support Olson's approach wonder about the future. "I actually think he's got some great ideas," ventures Alisa Clemons, an investigator in the juvenile unit. "But there is something going on--I don't know if it's because of him, but it's more magnified now. The feeling that people love their job, that it's a career for them, is being lost. A lot of the older cops, and now some of the younger cops too, are coming in every day and putting on their uniform and doing the work, because they got to feed their family. But it's just a job for them now. And the people who suffer, I think, is the community."

If a police chief stood or fell on the loyalty of his officers, Olson would have fallen by now. The reason he hasn't is that he's been able to keep the support of politicians, media, and community groups, to whom he has held out a major promise: That he will change not just the way the cops operate, but the way the city feels.

The concept of community-oriented policing (C.O.P.) has gotten too much ink around here lately to need much explaining. In a nutshell, it involves a shift from the police as (in Olson's phrase) "Jack Webb types" chasing the bad guys, to a prevention-based approach that has cops walking beats, shaking hands, and generally weaving themselves into the "fabric of the neighborhood." Whether it actually works that way no one has been able to prove, but that hasn't stopped supporters. Minneapolis officials have been particularly gung-ho, and Olson's history of advocating C.O.P. was among the top reasons for his selection.  

Olson says he's been overwhelmed by the degree to which the city got with the program. Politicians supported him when he sent investigators, including homicide cops, to walk beats in the summer; when he scattered vice and auto-theft detectives into the precincts; and when he offered to pay cops for coaching youth sports in his favorite project, the Police Athletic League. Neighborhoods put up their own money to build police substations, and to buy themselves an extra beat cop or two. "I really haven't seen any other places that operate that way," he says. "It's just neat stuff."

Inside the department, not everyone is so thrilled. "He's had us planting flowers outside the precinct," one officer scoffs. Jerry Larson, vice president of the Police Federation, calls it all "Kumbaya--holding everybody's hands instead of getting out there and kicking ass."

Actually, community policing does have quite a kick-ass component--though it's not talked about nearly as much as the Kumbaya part. Perhaps the biggest initiative of Olson's tenure was Operation Safe Streets, which directed cops to stop and search people for minor offenses--things like having something hanging from their rearview mirror--in hopes of finding drugs or guns. Olson announced it three months after taking office, in a joint press conference with Sayles Belton. "There are some thoughts that we are going to be Gestapo-like," he anticipated, "but certainly we're not."

That didn't provide much comfort to those who were to bear the brunt of Safe Streets. Though Olson and Sayles Belton both insisted that the project was colorblind, its "target neighborhoods" were all heavily minority-populated districts on the north and south sides. And attorneys who challenged the program in court say their research suggests that the stops overwhelmingly affected people of color.

Right now it's not clear whether Safe Streets will return for a third summer; instead, gang task forces are the new hot idea among police and political executives. But, says Joe Margulies of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center, the program set a clear direction. "There's so much pressure in Minneapolis right now to erase the taint of the label 'Murderapolis'--you can't overestimate the pressure that the police department and the mayor's office feel to change that picture. They're going to use any initiative they can devise to make the problem go away, or at least make the appearance of a problem appear to go away. This week they'll call it Safe Streets, and next week it's Operation No Gangs. But it's still a vehicle to allow the police to sweep up young black men that they think are troublemakers."

Interestingly, a lot of cops are just as hostile to Safe Streets as Margulies--though not for the same reasons. "A lot of people selected this department because they wanted a Starsky & Hutch-type existence," says the Fourth Precinct's Morris. "They want to be out there chasing the bad guys. It's not as much fun for officers to arrest people urinating and drinking in public as it is to pick up a guy with a gun or a wad of dope in his pocket. But arresting the drunken urinators is what really helps the aggravation in the neighborhoods."

Not everyone is so sure. "Right now, there's a real desire to get rid of the bad elements in a neighborhood," says the police federation's Al Berryman. "And of course, what you end up doing is you push them around from one neighborhood to the other, so people think something is being done.

"I believe in community policing, but I don't think it means going to conferences and coming home with glitzy programs that people will look at and go, wow. I think it means that every cop has time to get to know the people in the area. And right now, there's no time for doing that because we're answering way more calls for service than we should."

There have been complaints for a while now that all the focus on neighborhood cops and traffic stops has left the MPD short-handed on what remains among its core duties--showing up when people call 911. City Council member Walt Dziedzic, a former cop, has pointed out that Minneapolis right now has fewer straight-up patrol officers than at any time in recent history. Of an official sworn force of 912 (853 if you don't count those still in training), 365 are assigned to patrol. That's barely up from 1980, when the total force numbered only 735, and there were 358 patrol cops.  

Olson disputes those numbers, saying they don't factor in special-project officers, neighborhood cops, and school liaisons who are "out on the streets all the time." His entire administration, he says, has been about putting cops into the precincts and out on the streets. Dziedzic is, "with all due respect, not reading the data right. He thinks it's like in the old days. This is a new philosophy."

But philosophy doesn't always count on the streets. Take the log sheet a squad recently compiled on the Lake Street night shift. Within eight hours, the two officers handled 24 calls ranging from domestic disputes to shootings, many resulting in arrests. Spot checks around the precincts indicate that kind of caseload is common. Police training manuals suggest that anything above 15 calls in a shift is too much--especially for the mostly young, inexperienced officers typically charged with patrol duty.

"These kids are running ragged," says one department supervisor. "They come in here expecting that it's going to be tough, but not like this. One night I was out, there was a call about gunfire. I got there, the squad was already there, this kid came running toward them, it looked like he was holding a gun--turns out he had a piece of pipe, he was running away from the gunfire. They yelled at him to stop, he didn't--that kid could have been dead if they'd lost it. I looked at their log. They had been on for five hours and they had 30 calls."

And it's not just the patrol cops who are starting to lose it. Witness the situation in the ERU. Its members are volunteers from other units in the department; they carry beepers that go off when they're needed for a "high-risk warrant." That usually involves breaking into a house with a battering ram, yelling "Police! Get down on the floor!" and handcuffing everyone.

In 1987, when the unit was formed, it served 35 warrants. By 1991, the number had risen to 391; in 1996, it was more than 600. In one 13-day rotation period last year, says ERU sergeant Bob Kroll, his team did 50 warrants--almost as many as the corresponding unit in St. Paul does in an entire year. Minneapolis, it turns out, has its SWAT cops serve more warrants than Los Angeles.

One reason is that here, every drug raid is performed as a high-risk operation. Officially, that's because cops must assume that where there are drugs, there are guns. But ERU cops say they suspect that "dynamic, no-knock entries" are also used as a political pacifier: Nothing like a midnight battering ram to show neighbors that something is being done about the crack house down the street.

The cops' term for that kind of operation is "eviction warrants"--actions that serve to kick people out of a house, and little else. A spot check last year of 49 ERU warrants indicated that only half yielded any kind of arrest, and only one-fifth resulted in criminal charges. "The department is unduly endangering citizen and officer safety for no reason other than to further political agendas," ERU supervisors warned the administration in a recent memo. "The department is using high-risk search warrants to solve neighborhood livability issues. This is a short-sighted solution and is used because it is cost effective for the department and there is no concern for people's lives."

None of this, ERU officers say, should have been news to the chief. In November 1995 Deputy Chief Greg Hestness, himself a veteran of the unit, sent Olson a memo warning that the ERU was suffering overload. But nothing happened. Meanwhile tensions built in the unit over what members considered administration meddling, including the removal of a popular supervisor.

The kicker came during a raid on a suspected marijuana dealer's house last November. There was gunfire, and one officer was shot in the neck. He lived only because he happened to be wearing a special high-collared bulletproof vest. It's not clear to this day whether the bullet came from inside the house or from another officer.

Not everybody was sympathetic when the ERU cops finally marched on City Hall. One sergeant calls their action "terroristic tactics, holding the city hostage to get what they want." But even critics acknowledge that the underlying problem is serious. "This is dangerous work, and we don't even know how effective it is," Hestness says. "[The concerns] are being given a very thorough going-over. There's a lot of work being done. And we're on the verge of working something out."  

That was two weeks ago. By CP's deadline, the ERU had received a letter promising that its concerns would be addressed; Olson sent a copy of the letter around the department with a note saying the dispute had been resolved. Kroll says the ERU cops still aren't happy, but they've been told they are subject to discipline if they quit their assignments. "It just seems that the chief doesn't want to commit to anything," he says. "He had Deputy Chief Bill Jones sign the letter. And we don't know if he'll turn around down the road and say something different."

You hear that kind of thing a lot around the Police Department these days. Even Olson's supporters say they're not always sure whether the chief is just brainstorming, or actually making a commitment. They call it evidence of a creative mind; his critics say it just means they can't trust him. Either way, the confusion is nowhere more apparent than in Olson's dealing with one of the most persistent problems facing the department: its relationship with communities of color and its own minority officers.

In June 1995, 11-year-old Byron Phillips was fatally shot on the porch of his family's Newton Avenue home. The homicide unit did double time looking for his killer, but couldn't come up with a suspect; soon, word got out that people in the neighborhood weren't talking. Community activists warned that this was a recurring problem, brought on by the department's lack of investigators of color. The story hit the news, and politicians took notice.

Olson says he realized something had to be done. "We found a couple of bright, black officers who had assignments right in those neighborhoods and knew those folks, and we detailed them over there for the summer to help out. They went house to house and did a great job, and then they went back to their jobs."

That, a lot of people say, was precisely the problem. The young officers detailed to the Phillips investigation had neither the rank nor the experience to join the homicide unit permanently. "It was a sham," charges community advocate Ron Edwards. "All it was was crowd control and public relations. They were out there to make sure that the white officers weren't hassled and so that Olson could tell the press he was doing something. But he wasn't doing anything about the real problem."

The real problem, says Edwards, is the same it's always been: The department isn't doing enough to recruit minority cops and to support those it does have. The complaint is a longstanding one, but it reached new urgency under the Olson administration. Two months after the chief took office, a Community Response Team composed of black cops walked out, charging members were "being treated like Negroes." And within his first year, Olson demoted or fired several popular black cops, including Alisa Clemons (whom he accused of sending racist hate mail to officers including herself, a charge not supported in an appeal she filed and won) and Don Banham, president of the Minneapolis Black Police Officers Association. Members of the group say they kept pleading with Olson to discuss those and other concerns. By last summer, they gave up and asked a community panel to mediate.

Olson, who faced similar complaints in at least two of his previous jobs, says he's doing his best. "I've told all my commanders, I want diversity and equal opportunity for all my employees, and I want them to always have that in consideration. In fact, I had a chart done for our group of African-American community leaders outlining where all of our African-Americans were when I came here, and where they are today. I'm proud of that."

Olson's chart does show that many black officers, along with other minorities and women, have better assignments now than when he started. That's earned him praise from community leaders. But at the same time, the chief so far has failed to produce significant progress on minority hiring and promotion. To wit:

* In January of 1995, almost 15 percent of the MPD's sworn officers were people of color. Two years later, the figure stands at 15.7 percent.

* Of the 160 officers hired on Olson's watch, just over 15 percent were minorities. Of the 25 recruits of color, seven were African-Americans.

* In 1995, 19 of the department's 223 sergeants were minorities. As of Feb. 1 this year, there were 20 sergeants of color. (The figures look slightly better for lieutenants, the next-higher rank: In 1997, six of the 43 lieutenants are minorities, up from three when Olson came.)

* In the Fourth Precinct, which serves the neighborhoods with the highest African-American populations, there is not a single black sergeant.  

Asked about those numbers, Olson says it's too early to judge him. "We're plodding along wherever opportunities present themselves. It's always my last resort to make people do things, though sometimes you have to do that. But we've made really good strides in many of our units, and we will make a lot more. It takes some time."

Right now, though, it looks as if the black cops are tired of waiting. The community group they asked to intervene is due to present its report to the City Council any day now; Edwards, who serves on the citizens' panel, says it will be pretty thin. Their best option, the group has told the black officers, is to go ahead and sue.

So here, in a nutshell, is Olson's record in Minneapolis so far: more neighborhood cops; a bigger budget; a series of popular programs; no more really ugly headlines. Record stress; a potential multimillion-dollar lawsuit; and a workforce full of resentment.

Not bad for starters, says Olson. "My job here is not to make people happy. I'm here to run this police department. The things I needed to do haven't been easy things, but we're a lot farther along than I thought we'd be at this stage." He cocks his head again in that trademark manner, and it's hard to believe he's in any kind of trouble.

And so far he isn't. The mayor who appointed him seems headed for an easy re-election; City Council members, despite the occasional gripe, aren't giving him much grief. Neighborhood types, though less enthusiastic than they once were, are keeping quiet. And early this year, Olson's face was all over the news, beaming over a 3 percent reduction in the city's overall crime as measured by the FBI.

But the bliss may not last. "We're seeing a different mood in the city," says one advocate, who asks not to be named because he works with Olson. "A lot of people aren't interested in calling the police because they don't trust them. So you get vendettas, retaliation and so on, in addition to the seething anger that goes back to the stop-and-search operations [like Safe Streets]. And I personally think we're in for a real shock. This whole thing with the welfare situation and so many people being cut off assistance is very dangerous.

"And what you have is a chief who leaves the impression that things are under control, and that when people are discontented, it's because they are the problem. I've never yet heard him say anything else."

Online editor Jennifer Vogel and news intern Todd Renschler contributed to this story.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >