Interim Police Chief Tim Dolan faced stiff questioning from the City Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday before the panel agreed to formally file his name with the City Clerk as Mayor R.T. Rybak’s choice to lead the Police Department.
Despite Rybak’s repeated reminders that the action was a “perfunctory” move that would allow the committee to debate the merits of the appointment again on October 11, the three committee members who have declined to publicly support Dolan grilled the interim chief for more than an hour in an attempt to allay their concerns about his ability to effectively run the department.
Those concerns ranged from reforming the city’s Civilian Review Authority and rebuilding trust between the police and the community to preventing racial profiling and supporting community policing strategies. Dolan vowed to continue working to improve the department, but stood his ground on issues—like giving up his role as the final arbiter of police discipline—that have proven contentious with previous chiefs.
He agreed with Council Member Cam Gordon that the city needed an effective Civilian Review Authority, but argued that, in its current form, the CRA wasn’t working. “We need a civilian review process,” he said. “But right now we have a process that’s not respected by the community or by the police.”
And on the issue of disciplining officers, Dolan was emphatic that he would not support any stripping of the chief’s authority. “The police chief needs the final say in discipline. If you take that away from the police chief, you really don’t have a police chief.”
Dolan said he was “firmly committed” to the Police-Community Relations Council and the federal mediation agreement, and said he was working on a new plan to bolster the department’s community policing program.
He said he would strive to balance police deployment throughout the city and not leave Southside communities in the lurch when crime was spiking up North, noting that a new contingent of officers “will give us much more flexibility.”
Council Member Scott Benson, who was sharply critical of Dolan recently for promising to create a process for selecting neighborhoods that requested surveillance cameras even as his staff was pushing through a camera deal for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, asked him whether he would abide by council policies.
“My job is to follow what the council passes,” Dolan said.
On the topic of racial profiling, Dolan acknowledged its existence but defended the department’s efforts to fight it. “We are the most diverse police department in the state, and we should be,” he said. “The last class of recruits was 50 percent people of color.”
Rybak, who nominated Dolan after what some critics described as a half-hearted national search, said he was “honored” to have worked with Dolan over the past several months and lauded the interim chief’s “straight answers” and commitment to the city. “We are blessed to have a leader like him,” he said.
After some confusion over the committee’s action (City Attorney Jay Heffern repeatedly assured committee members that a “yes” vote did not necessarily indicate support for the nomination, only an intention to officially file Dolan’s name as the nominee), the committee voted 4–0 in favor of moving the process forward. Council Member Robert Lilligren abstained, saying he was “not prepared to make a decision today.”
In a separate action, the committee unanimously extended Dolan’s interim designation another 90 days, until January 15, 2007.
After the vote, Council Member Ralph Remington, who has led the opposition to the Dolan nomination, said he was “not surprised” by the proceedings. Rybak’s repeated description of the “perfunctory” nature of the approval, though, was particularly striking. “Why should they stop being perfunctory now?” he asked. “We’ve been perfunctory all along.”