Thinking Outside The Thin Blue Line: Janee Harteau

Janee Harteau resists definition, whether it be by gender, race, creed, sexual orientation, or even her impressive new title: Chief of Minneapolis Police.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau
Photos by: Cameron Wittig

In 1985, Janee Harteau was the lead singer for a Top 40 pop/rock cover band in Hibbing. “I was going to law enforcement classes at Hibbing Community College during the day,” Harteau recalls, almost 30 years later in her big new office inside Minneapolis City Hall, “and I was gigging out at night.” Her band was called Magnum. “Funny, right?” she says.
But the fact that the new Minneapolis police chief used to sing Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” and Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” in Hibbing bars as a 19-year-old community college student isn’t just an amusing pretty cool for a cop footnote to her story. It’s a key part of who she is.

Chief Harteau made time for a couple of hour-long conversations running up to her swearing-in ceremony during the first week in December, one in her office (newly vacated by outgoing chief Tim Dolan) and one in one of the department’s sleek black Chevy Tahoes, driving around the Third Precinct Chicago-Franklin neighborhood she used to patrol back when she and her partner, Holly Keegel, were known as “Cagney and Lacey.”

As she talks about her decision to become a cop, her steady rise through the ranks, and her struggles to be accepted by male officers, it becomes increasingly apparent that Chief Harteau can be all things to all people. She’s a breath of fresh air—and many hope a game changer—in a department that has had a bumpy ride.

0113_thinkingoutside_p1.jpgHarteau’s confirmation served as the proud debut of the police department’s new face.

Her confirmation hearing was a verifiable love-in where not one negative comment was raised. People from all over the city came up to tell council member Don Samuels and the rest of the public safety committee how qualified Harteau is for the job: bar owners from downtown, small business leaders from the West Bank, Baptist ministers from the North Side, chamber of commerce types, people who volunteer at the homeless shelters, neighborhood organizers from south Minneapolis, tribal reps from the American Indian Center on Franklin. Sharon Lubinski, who graduated from the same academy class with Harteau in 1987, went on to become the city’s first openly gay assistant chief in 2009, and is now a U.S. marshal, was just as effusive as everybody else. “Janee is what the community really needs,” she said.

Whether Harteau inspired or orchestrated this turnout, or whether it was a combo platter, she produced an impressive urban coalition. In his closing remarks, Samuels said that as each citizen approached the mike to testify on Harteau’s behalf, he felt the urge “to walk out there and give you a hug.”

But the day before, in her office, Harteau seemed uncertain about who exactly was going to show up. She wondered if “maybe some of the Duy Ngo people would be there.” Ngo is the Minneapolis police officer who was shot by a fellow Minneapolis cop while working undercover in 2003. He eventually settled with the city for a record $4.5 million in 2007 before committing suicide in 2010.

His death has become an avatar for the shadowy blemishes lingering within Dolan’s department—one marked by misconduct, excessive-force settlements, charges of discrimination, and secretive dismissals. There was the Gang Strike Force that was shut down in 2011 and the five black officers who filed suit saying their careers have been blocked by the MPD, among others.

But none of that stuff came up at Harteau’s hearing. Not one dissenting voice approached the mike. It was a new day for the department. The proud debut of its new feminine, brown, gay face.

After the committee voted unanimously to recommend Harteau’s confirmation for the position for which she had been nominated, a group made its way to a conference room where Harteau deftly answered questions from the press. She was pure grace in front of the microphone. “Sometimes a cop isn’t very good at asking for help, but we need to work together,” she said, rocking the same Joan Jett ’80s haircut she wore (only less spiky and with subtle blond soccer- mom streaks) back when she covered Pat Benatar songs in a Hibbing bar.

Here she was, Chief Harteau, a lead singer who had found her stage. A rock star of a police chief, playing exactly the sort of tune Minneapolis wants to hear. It felt like the beginning of one of those E! Behind the Music shows.

There is also a side to our new chief that is wary of the limelight. She is a cop, after all. “You know how we are,” she says. “We don’t like being on TV.” But in August of 1990, her commanding officer asked Harteau and her partner if they would volunteer for the FOX television show Cops. The show was filming in the Twin Cities early in its second season, producing an episode featuring female police officers. “Even in 1990 there weren’t a lot of female partnerships,” Harteau says. They filmed Keegel and Harteau responding to typical calls as they worked the 7 pm to 3 am “power shift.”

The duo had been on-the-job partners for a couple of years and had really found their groove within the Third Precinct neighborhood. “We were both good cop,” Harteau says. “We were both empathetic and tough. I will say I was a little more willing to let somebody off with a warning.” The show captured the good-cop-and-good-cop vibe of their working relationship and also showed footage of the two of them having fun after hours. “Holly was playing keyboards and I was playing drums,” she says. “I had just bought a drum kit and we were goofing off. They asked us to show a personal side.”

“A good cop can turn on compassion when you need to but also KNOW how to take care of business. You know how to treat people fair but not equal.”

Harteau says the two of them got some pretty pervy fan mail from across the country. “ ‘I like your outfit.’ ‘I like your gloves,’ ” she says. “It was a little stalkerish.” But she laughs it off.

They also got razzed by their fellow cops. That wasn’t anything new, because it was happening all the time. And it was nothing to laugh off—it got ugly. Harteau grows uncomfortable when she talks about this segment of her career, even though she’s had to discuss it many times over the years and many, many, many times recently. It wasn’t just teasing over the star turn on Cops, or her and Keegel being dubbed “Cagney and Lacey.” Some of the male officers cut into Harteau and Keegel’s radio signal when they were calling for backup, and stolen property was planted in the glove compartment of their prowler.

Eventually Harteau and Keegel complained to Internal Affairs. When those complaints were ignored they went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC was able to mediate the situation to their satisfaction. The officers involved were reprimanded and policy changes were implemented.

“It’s a chapter I’ve pretty much closed,” Harteau says. “And I don’t remember many of the details, but there were changes in training and response to people’s complaints.” But you can tell the incident still bothers her, and she still finds the competition between the sexes unsettling. “I thought we were all on the same team,” she says. At the time, her fellow officers didn’t know that she and Keegel had fallen in love. “But people struggled with the fact that we weren’t dating them,” Harteau says. “I didn’t want to date a cop to begin with.”

Her romantic involvement with Keegel was a first on two fronts: first cop and first woman. “I had wonderful boyfriends before that, but I’m a strong person. And I think it takes a really strong, together person to tolerate me, frankly,” she says. “I fell in love with my best friend. I didn’t expect it, nor did she, but some people find their soulmate and some people don’t. We’re fortunate that way. But that added to our struggles and it ultimately made us stronger.”

Harteau and Keegel, who is now a sergeant in the department, are still together. In 1999, the two of them adopted a baby girl from Guatemala. “We’re both the mainstays of our families,” Harteau says. “Kind of the matriarchs. We have the longest relationship in our families.”

Harteau grew up in Duluth, and her birth father left her mother when she was 10. Her mom raised her and her two sisters on a teacher’s salary. Eventually her mom remarried. Harteau thinks her Chippewa heritage from her birth father’s side is important, but for the most part she grew up in a Scandinavian-Catholic household. “Both Holly and I were raised Catholic,” she says. “We had our daughter baptized, but we both struggle with the Catholic Church—I don’t think God would like to have people so judgmental.”

Just like the Native American thing and the woman thing, this is complicated territory and Harteau is wary about being placed in a box that she didn’t get to pick out. Yet she also seems aware of how she’s perceived and how the perception of all this identity stuff has shifted as she’s advanced upwards. In the city where she works and the political apparatus that nominated her, all of this is seen as an asset in a chief. She believes it’s an asset too. She’s a believer in diversity and community. She knows how to say the right thing. But she still seems slightly annoyed she won’t be recognized as just a good, smart cop until she gets even further beyond these boxes. “Outside of the fact that we’re both women,” she says, “we would be looked at as this great American couple.”

After you see Harteau on the job a few times, her ambition becomes palpable. But she isn’t one of these people who grew up wanting to be somebody in uniform. She was a 17-year-old Duluth Denfield graduate studying to be a medical secretary in Hibbing. “I wanted to be a singer,” she says. “But my mom said you have to have something to fall back on. That stuck with me.” But medical stenography was so b-o-r-r-ring.

So she trusted her gut and switched programs. She has a good gut. Thirty years later she’s in charge of a department with 850 officers who answer 400,000 calls a year. She has been promoted steadily from officer to sergeant to lieutenant. She has been appointed to inspector, to assistant chief, and now to chief of police. She went back to school in 2004 to get her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 2006 from St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis. Now she’s on the faculty at St. Mary’s, where she teaches a course called “Demographic Influence on Policing.” She’s also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.


She wants the department she just took over to be a model for other departments in the state and the country. She’s obviously committed to constant education and seems comfortable with change in a way that seems unprecedented in a chief of police.

But in order to become a transformative chief who won’t disappoint all your rabid fans, you need a hit. What will be her first hit? Dolan left behind some trouble spots, but he didn’t leave a department in crisis. Crime is changing: Identity theft and other kinds of cyber fraud are on the rise, and human traffickers are targeting even younger and more vulnerable victims.

The new chief will have to deal with those. But the place she has the most opportunity to make change is with the workforce. The Minneapolis Police Department has an aging workforce, and Harteau plans to focus on finding the best and brightest to replace retiring officers. Under her watch, what a police officer will look like and sound like in Minneapolis could change dramatically. “Not too many years ago,” she says, “we identified talent based on size. Then it became based in training: making arrests, officer survival, handling critical incidents. That’s where we’re good. Where we miss the mark is community relations, public trust, all those service components.”

She wants to develop talent once she has it in the department, but she also wants to start identifying it even earlier externally, finding and recruiting officer candidates at a younger age, before college, before they run off and commit their lives to covering Pat Benatar songs.

Harteau Highlights

The new chief of the Minneapolis police climbs up the ranks.

Attends Hibbing Community College, fronts a cover band called Magnum, and considers a career in medical stenography.

Graduates from Hibbing Community College as a licensed peace officer. Joins Minneapolis Police Academy. Members of her graduating class include future assistant chief and U.S. marshal Sharon Lubinski.

Assigned Holly Keegel as her partner for the “power shift” (7 pm to 3 am) patrol of Franklin & Chicago neighborhood in the Third Precinct. The two are known as “Cagney and Lacey.”

After finding deaf ears at Internal Affairs, Harteau and Keegel complain to the Minnesota office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about harassment from fellow officers. The EEOC finds the case in their favor. Internal protocols are changed and some officers are reprimanded.

Promoted to sergeant, assigned to Licensing Division and the Downtown Command Street Patrol and Gang Units.

1998 & 1999
Publishes personal safety guides with co-author Keegel

Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Promoted to lieutenant. Assumes command of the Crime Lab and Licensing Division.

Graduates from Northwestern University’s Police and Command Staff School.

Graduates with a master’s degree in public safety from St. Mary’s. Appointed first inspector of the First Precinct by Chief Tim Dolan. Becomes a professor at St. Mary’s.

Appointed deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau.

Promoted to assistant police chief.

April 2012
Mayor R.T. Rybak announces he intends to nominate Harteau to replace outgoing Chief Dolan.

Officially nominated by Rybak.

Council approves nomination.

Sworn in as Minneapolis’s 52nd police chief.

Chief Concerns


Harteau on being a good cop: “We all want the same things. We all want to be respected. A good cop can turn on compassion when you need to but also know how to take care of business. You know how to treat people fair but not equal.”

On education: “I’m a lifelong learner. I’m always trying to train and educate myself. I don’t have higher expectations for others than I do for myself. Come to work, you learn, you do the right thing. If I’m a victim of a crime, what kind of cop do I want to show up?”

On keeping a fresh perspective: “I like to stay somewhat childlike and ask a lot of whys. And my 13-year-old keeps me in that mode, too, because she asks a lot of whys. And you know what I end up saying? ‘You know, I don’t know! Why can’t we do something else?’”

On leadership: “Hierarchy is for decision-making but not for innovation. So that’s when you flip the pyramid upside down and you allow the people who do the work to be innovative and come up with the ideas. But when it comes to decision-making, that all rests top-down. Because at the end of the day, I’m not going to blame down. The only person I’m going to blame is myself.”

On policing: “What we’re looking for in policing has changed a little bit. Before I started, it was how big you were, how strong you were. Now it’s about building relationships. We’re not just law enforcement officers; we’re problem solvers, we’re collaborators, we’re community leaders. So you need all those other things when it comes to arrests, but we need different skills now. So we need gifted communicators. Let’s face it, everything we do involves people—good people, bad people. We tend to see the worst sides of people, but you build those partnerships and you can see the best side of people.”