May 14, 2012
Duluth Denfeld grad climbs to top police
spot in Minneapolis
By Mark Stodghill
A 1982 Duluth Denfeld graduate — whom Minneapolis
Mayor R.T. Rybak intends to nominate as his city’s first female
police chief — said she went to high school primarily to socialize
and she thought more about becoming the next Pat Benatar than a
But over the past 30 years, Janee Harteau has
earned a bachelor’s degree in police science, a master’s
degree in public safety administration and worked her way up the
ranks of the Minneapolis Police Department to her current position
as assistant chief, second in command.
Rybak will put Harteau before the Minneapolis
City Council for approval as police chief in January after current
Chief Tim Dolan retires. Harteau would join Washington, D.C., Police
Chief Cathy Lanier and Tampa Bay Police Chief Jane Castor as women
leading the largest police departments in the country.
Rybak doesn’t expect City Council opposition
“She’s very popular with the people
she works with, and I’m pretty confident the council is going
to approve her,” he said. The mayor calls the 47-year-old
Harteau a smart cop, a savvy administrator and a natural leader.
“When you get into a room with Janee, it’s
pretty clear that this is somebody who doesn’t need a badge
to command respect,” Rybak said. “She is also a good
person to be around. You want to sit at a table and solve a problem
with her and maybe she’ll crack a few jokes along the way.
She’s a person that people are comfortable with and turn to
Harteau showed some self-deprecating humor in
an interview with the News Tribune. She said her favorite class
at Denfeld was study hall.
“I had fun in school,” she said. “I
was very social and I liked the social aspect of school. I was truly
not interested in learning. I was always known as the funny one,
not the smart one. I did not enjoy learning until I went to college.”
Harteau then buckled down. She earned a law enforcement
degree at Hibbing Community College, while performing as the lead
singer in a rock band called “Magnum.” She sang music
by Benatar, Heart and Loverboy to help pay her bills.
“I wore the (law enforcement) uniform for
school during the day and fishnets at night,” Harteau chuckled.
From there she joined the Minneapolis Police Department
at 22 years old. Along the way, she earned a bachelor’s degree
in police science and a master’s degree in public safety administration
from St. Mary’s University’s Twin Cities campus. She
is also a graduate of the School of Police Staff and Command at
Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., She’s now an instructor
at both schools and travels around the country teaching command
leadership to police departments.
In 2009, she supervised a public-private police
partnership program that received a national policing award from
the International Association of Police Chiefs. She’s credited
with implementing a Somali liaison officer position in the department
and for improving relations with the Somali community.
“I tend to push myself,” she said.
“It’s about me and making myself better.”
Harteau’s ambition, education, street cop
experience and even those social skills developed at Denfeld have
put her in position to lead a police department that has a $130
million budget, 843 licensed police officers and 125 civilian employees.
Harteau was asked to describe herself:
“I am a change agent,” she said. “I
am not satisfied with status quo. Leadership is a process, not a
position. We can always become better. I don’t focus on obstacles,
but possibilities. We all have bumps in the road, therefore it is
not what happens to us, but how we respond to it. At a young age
I watched my mother deal with many unexpected difficult turns, but
she forged ahead and never made excuses. Much of my strength and
courage I inherited from her.”
Jan Liljegren of Hermantown, a retired Head Start
teacher, knew her daughter was capable of accomplishing something
special in life.
“She was always an overachiever, spunky,
sassy, kind of had a mind of her own,” Liljegren said of Harteau.
“She was always a hard worker and always willing to work around
Harteau had three paper routes, baby sat and took
whatever other odd jobs she could round up as a teenager. She is
the oldest of three daughters that Jan raised alone after a divorce
until marrying Earl Liljegren in 1983.
“She rolled with the punches of having a
mother get divorced,” Jan Liljegren said of her daughter.
“When she was in high school she got a job at Kentucky Fried
Chicken, went to work on her bike, then bought her own car and paid
for her own car insurance. She’s always been very independent,
but when we go to the Cities she’s the one doing all the cooking
and caregiving to bring our family together. I don’t know
how she finds the time for everything.”
Harteau, whose biological father is of French
Canadian and American Indian descent and is a member of the Bad
River Band of Chippewa, said she has no contact with him.
“Because he did not keep contact with us
we had no part of the Indian culture,” she said. “I
have many connections and a great working relationship with the
American Indian community in Minneapolis. It is a very small part
of my ethnicity, but a part I embrace and welcome opportunities
to be a role model for that community.”
Harteau and Holly Keegel, a sergeant in the Minneapolis
Police Department, have been partners for 24 years and have co-authored
two books on personal safety. The couple has a 13-year-old daughter.
Rybak said he’s known Harteau for 10 years.
He got to know her the best when she led the downtown precinct.
“It seemed like every week, if not every
few days, that some sort of issue required the mayor and the head
of the downtown precinct to work together,” he said. “A
successful police officer, commander or chief needs to find the
right balance between times when you have to be very tough and times
when you have to address the core issues that can prevent crime.
At the end of the day, we all want to look up to someone who simply
has good common sense. She has a good head on her shoulders and
can make good decisions.”
The mayor said Harteau has been one of the leaders
in the department at using technology to look at problems and come
up with solutions.
“Instead of identifying where crime happened
last week, we’ve moved forward to where crime might happen.
She’s been a very successful and important part of that effort,”
Retiring Chief Dolan called Harteau his right-hand
“Because of budget cuts, the patrol deputy
chief position was eliminated and she had the duty of not only assisting
the chief, but heading the patrol bureau, which was very difficult,”
Dolan said. “She had a job for a couple of years that would
turn most people’s hair very gray. On paper, Janee is one
of the best-qualified candidates in the country. On the other side
of it, what she has done with the department in a leadership role,
employee engagement, mentorship, she has brought all of that forward
and done a great job.”
The 5-foot-7, 140-pound officer runs, swims and
lifts weights to handle the physicality of her job. During her time
in the streets she suffered a broken nose while working an undercover
narcotics assignment when she said a suspect sucker-punched her.
She tore ligaments in a thumb while running after and jumping on
an auto thief suspect.
She likes to read, but not for fun, she said.
She subscribes to the Harvard Business Review and other publications
that are either geared toward policing or leadership. She said she
has read just about everything author John Maxwell has written about
Harteau provided her view on leadership, which
she said she adopted from the book “Good to Great,”
by Jim Collins.
“It begins with hiring the right people,”
she said. “For me, that is hiring those with the right set
of values and a diverse set of talents. Collins says get them in
the right seats. So to me that is giving them assignments to build
on their strengths and build a good team. I believe a leader is
only as good as the people they surround themselves with and I look
for those who have strengths that compliment mine. One of my greatest
strengths is seeing the talent in others even if they don’t
see it in themselves. And I would never ask more from anyone that
I do from myself. I lead from the front.”
Harteau has never returned to Duluth for a Denfeld
class reunion. She said the classmates that she was closest to didn’t
stay in Duluth, either. But if the Hunters’ Class of 1982
has a 30-year reunion this year, she wants to come back for it.
“I didn’t appreciate Duluth until
I left and got older,” she said. “I couldn’t wait
to get out. But now what I carry of Duluth with me is a sense of
community. Minneapolis is very diverse and very large with multiple
communities. In Duluth, you have a community. I’d like to
bring that small-town girl feel to my job. I have so much more appreciation
for it now.”