Contract buyout a possibility for Minneapolis police chief’s future

Shira Kantor

Minneapolis officials remained tight-lipped Wednesday on details of a possible buyout of Minneapolis police Chief Robert Olson’s contract, but they confirmed reports Mayor R.T. Rybak is considering ousting the chief.

“He’s continuing to explore all options – including a contract buyout – but also voluntary departure, or no change at all,” said Laura Sether, a Rybak spokeswoman.

Sether said the mayor will likely present recommendations to the City Council within a week.

“Now that the story has become public, (Rybak) has acknowledged that he started talking to Chief Olson about a month ago, laying out some clear goals for the police chief and the police department,” Sether said.

Recent police-community clashes such as the police shooting of a mentally ill Somali man and allegations of excessive force in Dinkytown and other campus areas following the Gophers men’s NCAA hockey championship game earlier this month have contributed to tension between Olson and Rybak.

Two years remain on Olson’s contract, which pays $116,000 per year.

City Council members – who have remained split on the issue – will have to vote on any contract buyout.

Like the mayor, Olson’s staff has been quiet. Sgt. Medaria Arradondo, Olson’s assistant, said the department is not commenting, and Downtown Command Inspector Rob Allen said the issue is “sort of at the range of gossip right now.”

Sether said she knows of no pressure from the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis to replace Olson. The federation has clashed with the chief throughout his seven-year tenure.

“We certainly got a lot of community reaction that they’re not on the same page as the police force is in terms of their use of force,” Sether said.

Luke Engan, a social and civic journalism major, said there was no question police used excessive force at the Dinkytown riots.

“I definitely think it’s time for (Olson) to go,” Engan said. “There is no doubt that what I had seen in front of my own eyes was just blatant misconduct and abuse of authority without fear of being held responsible.

“There’s a rift between communities and law enforcement,” Engan said. “And that rift can only be closed by feeling like cops are not enemies in their neighborhoods.

“It’s obvious that the mayor needs to act as a leader in giving us continued positive public action.”

John Porten, an English and theater major, said he saw police using excessive force during the riots as well but didn’t want to discount the role rioters played in the event.

Porten said he didn’t know whether getting rid of Olson would change anything.

“It’s difficult to say that replacing the head of the police is going to lead to an abrupt swing in attitude in the individual members of the police force,” Porten said.

“If it’s that we’re buying out his contract to make a point to whoever the next police chief is, or to individual police officers, that it’s inexcusable to be in a position of authority and use that power excessively, then I suppose I could support that, Porten said. But to say that replacing the police chief is the end of the issue is probably pretty thin.”