Minneapolis Mayor Muzzles Police Officers

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(AP) Mayor R.T. Rybak has ordered police officers to seek permission from city hall before talking to reporters, prompting the police department spokeswoman to resign.

“I’m not gagging the Police Department at all,” said Rybak, a former newspaper reporter who had pledged to throw open the doors of city hall. “I’m saying we will have unified communications in the city.”

His memo to Police Chief Robert Olson said he was “centralizing all strategic decisions about how — and when — the Police Department communicates with the public via the media.”

Olson said he couldn’t comment on the order, issued Wednesday. He put out a memo directing department employees not to speak with the media.

The mayor’s office did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking further comment.

Police Department spokeswoman Cyndi Barrington resigned after Rybak issued his memo, which said her job would be folded into the communications department, where she would report to city spokeswoman Gail Plewacki, a former police officer and television reporter.

Plewacki’s hiring was one of several moves by Rybak to take control over who is allowed to speak for the city.

Several high-ranking police officers expressed concern over the policy, with Lt. Mike Sauro, head of the sex crimes unit, saying, “It’s censorship. End of discussion.”

Rybak said citizens have told him that crime is running amok in Minneapolis and complained that nothing is being done to train officers to better respond to calls.

“That’s simply not the case,” Rybak said. “We need to tell the people the reality of what’s going on — the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Rybak declined to cite examples of how the current system has failed.

Rybak was elected in November 2001, beating incumbent Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. Rybak, an Internet consultant and community activist, has also worked as a Star Tribune reporter, and he was publisher of the Twin Cities Reader, an alternative weekly that folded in 1997.

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