Denfeld News

May 14, 2012
Duluth News Tribune

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 police officer.

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 to Harteau.

“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 for solutions.”

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 the house.”

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,” he said.

Retiring Chief Dolan called Harteau his right-hand person.

“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 leadership.

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.”

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