The struggle for Tim Dolan's soul

In the month since he was named by Mayor R.T. Rybak to be chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, Tim Dolan has withstood what is likely more public scrutiny than any police chief candidate before him, not just in the media, but at City Hall as well.

At the very least, it's hard to recall any mayoral nominee standing for questioning on two different hour-long occasions to still face the prospect of getting dinged in a perfunctory committee vote.

Dolan has more than once cracked that he feels like he's running for political office, but the truth is he's in a good old-fashioned police interrogation.

And maybe that's fair. Recent MPD chiefs, in vastly different ways, have all fallen short of improving the force as advertised, never mind getting around to actually reforming the culture of the place. Why not get serious about truly vetting a candidate?

On Wednesday, Dolan again stood before the council's Executive Committee, just as he had done two weeks earlier. By a vote of 3-0, with two abstentions, Dolan's name was forwarded to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, which will take up the chief nomination on October 18. If Rybak's selection makes it out of that committee, Dolan will have to face the full council for approval as a final hurdle--and it's a virtual toss-up if there's majority support for him.

But at this point, it's clear that the grilling of Dolan has less to do with him, and more about who wants to run the city. In other words, this is a battle between Rybak and the 13 City Council members.

Some council members, Ralph Remington (10th Ward) in particular, have complained repeatedly in the press about the secrecy of the selection process. And others on the Executive Committee, most notably Cam Gordon (Second Ward), have extensively quizzed Dolan about his views on disciplining officers in misconduct cases, and how he plans to further diversify the MPD.

But mostly Dolan seems to be a victim of a McManus hangover. Former MPD Chief Bill McManus, who left in April, was notorious around City Hall for not reaching out to council members, rarely even notifying them when he would make high-profile decisions. At the same time, it became evident that Rybak himself was weighing in on many of the day-to-day operations of the MPD, further alienating council members and eventually his own top cop.

So when it gets down to brass tacks, most council members are wondering if Dolan will be a lackey for hizzoner, or a pawn beholden to the will of a wildly divergent City Council.

Take this line of "questioning" from Robert Lilligren (Sixth Ward) from the first ExecCom meeting on September 28: "We want to protect our constituents, and we want to be very involved. We want to be sure that you will be in charge, and not be swayed by outside forces, especially elected officials."

Or this similar sentiment from Scott Benson (11th Ward) at the same meeting: "No one member [of the council] has the right to direct you. ... The flip side is if there's a council directive, and the mayor signs it, that is the law. No officer has the right to disregard it."

(For the record, Lilligren and Benson abstained on the final vote this week.)

And then there is the widespread perception that Dolan, a 23-year veteran of the department, is too much a part of the MPD's status quo--that he'll do little with bad-apple cops but turn a blind eye toward their behavior.

For his part, Dolan said at the press conference that announced his selection in early September that he is, at the end of the day, his own man. "There is no status quo with me," he said. "I'm a very independent person. There is no Tim Dolan clique in the department. And while I understand there's a council approval process, the reality of being chief is that it's all on your shoulders."

In fact, if approved, there's little reason to expect Dolan to adhere to any one governing body, whether it's Rybak or a council member or anyone else. (Though it is hard to discern, given the pedantic last four weeks, why Dolan would want to work with any of them at this point.)

The most telling glimpse of how Chief Dolan would operate for the next three years came in an answer to a question from Cam Gordon. As chief, McManus had essentially ignored cases of police misconduct sustained by the Civilian Review Authority, the citizen board that looks at complaints against the cops. Gordon has been keen on revamping many of the CRA's practices, and in particular he wanted to know if Dolan would discipline an officer over a CRA finding.

"I'm going to have discretion I'll use on discipline--I want that," Dolan said Wednesday, adding that the mayor, council or CRA will not dictate his decisions. "I owe that to the officers and the community, but I also owe it to myself ethically."

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