New police chief has solid footing, support

On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted 9-4 to confirm Bill McManus as the city’s next police chief. While some remain disappointed with the failure to find a qualified female or minority candidate, the confirmation offers a “golden opportunity” – as one City Council member put it – to address a number of problems facing Minneapolis.

McManus arrives in Minneapolis with sound credentials. Chief of police in Dayton, Ohio, since January 2002, McManus also spent 27 years with the Washington police department. In both localities, he built a reputation for bridging racial divides and fighting crime with a healthy mix of muscle and sensitivity. In the days running up to his confirmation, McManus gained the support of several influential Twin Cities community leaders, including St. Paul police Chief William Finney, State Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-St. Paul, and the Minneapolis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Such support is critical if McManus is to succeed in his new position. While crime in the city is at a 40-year low, tensions between the black community and the police department persist. A skilled conciliator could help Mayor R.T. Rybak’s often clumsy efforts to ease these tensions. The looming completion of light rail and the recent makeover of the riverfront and warehouse districts point toward a much-needed revitalization of downtown Minneapolis. Reducing crime further, and countering widespread misperceptions that crime rates are increasing or holding steady, will be crucial in convincing people to make downtown their home.

McManus’ brief time in Ohio provides ample reason to welcome his confirmation. He maintained a healthy dialogue with the black community by regularly attending NAACP or Urban League meetings and by actively defusing tensions on a number of occasions. McManus also sought to make his department a better reflection of the community it served, promoting blacks to three of his top six command positions, even while rankling departmental feathers in the process. But, perhaps most importantly, McManus seems to understand the challenge posed by racial tensions as well as the diplomacy and sensitivity needed to ease them.

McManus has the support of the community he will serve. What he does with that support remains to be seen.