A shelf in the corner office of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office speaks to Dan Starry’s beginnings, when he was a kid knocking around his Austin, Minn., neighborhood.
On the shelf sits a can of Spam, a token of the new sheriff’s pride in his hometown known for its production of the cooked meat. Starry admits to still lunching on Spam once in awhile: You can take the kid out of Austin, but not the Spam out of the kid.
Starry told how he and his brother, a Sherburne County chief deputy, got into law enforcement.
“When we were kids we had a city patrol officer who came past the neighborhood,” Starry said. “There was always a group of kids out playing football, or tag, or cops and robbers. He would stop, say hello and play football, while wearing his duty belt. That drew my attention. Out of that neighborhood, at least four of our friends went into law enforcement.
“It really drives back to that police officer making that contact. Twenty-five years later, here we are doing the same thing, that community engagement piece that’s so important.”
Starry became Washington County’s 30th sheriff on May 1, replacing the retiring Bill Hutton.
In an interview at the Sheriff’s Office in Stillwater, Starry talked about taking charge of the county’s largest agency, with 254 employees.
Q: What was your first thought when you found out you would be the next Washington County sheriff?
A: To work with the great men and women here is very humbling. I started working here July 12, 1993. I still remember that first day. Yes, it’s very humbling.
Q: What should people know about Dan Starry, the man?
A: I’m a family person. Everyone who knows me knows my wife and two daughters are very important to me. I’ve been married for 25 years in September. I’m one of those guys who will sit back and think about things and make sure that we’re doing it right, in the best interest of the Sheriff’s Office and the citizens of Washington County. Levelheadedness is a strength of mine, whether it’s leadership or strategic planning or communications with the community and employees.
Q: What do you want to accomplish as sheriff?
A: Address the opioid epidemic. I was just put on the executive board of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. It’s a national program to reduce the flow of drugs into this area and across the nation. We’ve been working on this for a few years with drug takebacks, with naloxone, to try to get numbers of accidental overdoses down. Working with the county attorney on human trafficking is another initiative, making sure that the young men and women who are out there are not exploited. Another is crisis intervention training. At the end of this year about 90 percent of our correctional staff will be trained and about 80 percent of our patrol staff. Our goal is to hit 100 percent.
Q: The trend toward more people on the street having mental illness is holding?
A: It’s still holding, and even in our jail. It’s too bad, the jail is not the right place for them. We’ve heard that again and again. It’s probably their inability to cope, or lack of support, that eventually makes them commit a crime and that’s how they end up in our jail.
Q: Is violent crime in Washington County up or down?
A: I think it’s holding steady. The trend seems to be the domestic-type tragedies, along with the homicides. That is disturbing. I want to make sure the citizens know they are safe here. We also see the influences of burglaries and property crimes. We had a call of a suspicious vehicle that was taking mail in Newport. The deputies spotted the vehicle and arrested two individuals from St. Paul. They had multiple pieces of mail. What are they doing with that information?
Q: Do law-abiding ordinary citizens have contact with law enforcement officers?
A: We do a very good job with community engagement, whether it’s attending City Council meetings, special events such as National Night Out, the fair, the parade. We did “Touch a Truck” where people can see the county’s big rigs. We bring out the Bearcat [assault vehicle] and some of our equipment. Positive contact with our citizens will help in our day-to-day interactions with the public.
Q: Years from now, what do you want people to remember about Sheriff Starry?
A: First and foremost, that he dedicated himself to serving the public.