Musical chairs at the PCRC

Categories: Minneapolis

To say that the Rev. Ian Bethel has had a hand in forging a better relationship between the Minneapolis Police Department and various minority communities would be an understatement.

The south Minneapolis pastor was one of the chief negotiators of the nearly three-year-old Federal Mediation agreement, a document dedicated to better policing practices signed by members of the MPD, community and the Department of Justice. Since then, he's been the co-chair of the Police Community Relations Council, an outgrowth of the FedMed agreement, cooling heads in several contentious meetings and volatile press conferences. Over time, Bethel has been instrumental in getting the department's top brass to break bread with any number of activists and rabble-rousers.

He has been, in short, a calm and peaceful power broker that both sides desperately need.

So it was shocking to read a press release Wednesday saying that 12 community members of the PCRC had voted to remove Bethel as co-chair.

"I was surprised myself," Bethel says. "I got the letter faxed to my home by a reporter."

The press release sounded a collegial note, thanking "Rev. Bethel profusely for his dedication to the Police Community Relations Council and his extensive efforts to find workable solutions to very immense and extremely difficult issues." But the truth of the matter is, things on the PCRC have been quite contentious.

Most of the trouble revolves around Tim Dolan, who has been selected by Mayor R.T. Rybak to be the chief of the MPD, but awaits approval by the City Council. Two weeks ago, the PCRC issued a vote of "no confidence" in Dolan, a stance that Bethel could not get behind.

"Dolan is going to be confirmed," Bethel says. "My role is to find a framework to work with him. Why close the door on someone you know is going to be confirmed?"

The main sticking point for PCRC members is that Dolan is viewed by many as "part of the old-boy network," as Bethel puts it. "When brutality goes on," says PCRC community member Al Flowers, "Dolan turns a blind eye." Most of them unfavorably cite Dolan's reign as 4th Precinct commander on the city's North Side, a position he held for several years.

They also point to Dolan's role in awarding a Medal of Valor to Danny May last January for a 1990 incident in which he fatally shot a 17-year-old boy. Dolan was involved in a small ceremony where May collected the medal. (May eventually returned it and refused the commendation.)

Bethel, for his part, says he understands "the real concerns of the community." "Those cobwebs of Dolan's past are festering," Bethel concedes. "I've talked with him man-to-man, eyeball-to-eyeball, and he's said to me, 'I'll work with you.' That's where our relationship started."

But Flowers and others are uneasy with the Bethel/Dolan alliance--"They too tight," Flowers claims--and in the end, Bethel's undoing had more to do with a referendum on Dolan as chief.

This was exacerbated by the Sept. 20 shooting and killing of Dominic Felder at the hands of two MPD officers. Felder's family was outraged, and Dolan was suddenly on the hot seat. PCRC members generally were unhappy with the information they were getting from the chief on the incident.

But Bethel was in close contact with Dolan during the ordeal, something that upset PCRC members. "He wasn't giving us any information," Flowers says. Bethel, who says he was "forthright and truthful" with PCRC members about what he knew, counters: "My first concern was the family. I'm a man of integrity. We should not prostitute grief to go after Dolan."

But apparently things started to add up. Flowers claims that Bethel was often unavailable to PCRC members, and that in recent months had missed meetings and fallen behind on agenda items. "We have two years left to get some of the these federal mediation things done," Flowers says. "Bethel hasn't been arguing forcefully enough to get the police into compliance on this."

Bethel, for his part, will stay on as a member of the PCRC. "I'm not going anywhere, I'm going to be involved in police community relations," he says. "I signed that agreement, and I'll stick on it." He does admit that he has had some personal issues, like a divorce and a recent remarriage, that have taken some time away from the PCRC.

"I've had about 75 calls from the community telling me not to go, but that's the nature of leadership: you get marked," Bethel says. "That's what's killing me. You don't like to take this shit, especially when it's coming from your friends. But I can't let the community down."


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