Rich Stanek was seven months into his first term as Hennepin County sheriff when the Interstate 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145. As a longtime law enforcement officer, he had witnessed previous disasters, so he had valuable experience and contacts that would help him handle the unimaginable event.

Eddie Frizell, a Minneapolis police lieutenant, made it to the bridge 6 minutes after the collapse. He quickly joined teams of first responders, running more than 2 miles to help firefighters in the vehicle-filled waters.

The two men, both of whom have had prominent careers with the Minneapolis Police Department, now face each other in a spirited race for Hennepin County sheriff. Frizell said he felt compelled to challenge Stanek because deputies and employees in that office tell him it’s in crisis and morale is low.

Frizell, 51, of Maple Grove, one of three deputy chiefs with the Minneapolis Police Department, filed at the last minute to run against Stanek, who is seeking his third term. He had been thinking about running for several months, but wanted to wait to announce his candidacy until he completed his prominent security role at this summer’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Target Field.

“It’s an opportunity to define an outstanding organization with potential that’s underutilized,” Frizell said. “It’s my passion. I love being a cop. It’s what I do.”

Frizell: ‘Crying for change’

Frizell, a husband of 19 years and father of three, has been endorsed by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies Association, the National Black Police Association, former Hennepin County Sheriff Donald Omodt and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. He’s been recognized by his department for overseeing significant crime reduction as a precinct inspector pushing community engagement efforts. He is also a Minnesota Army National Guard colonel with a long military résumé, having led his entire squadron of 636 safely back home near the end of the Iraq war.

Frizell said that even though Stanek has been sheriff for eight years, many county residents don’t know who he is or what his office does. The incumbent brought more positions into administration, a move that doesn’t leave enough deputies to adequately patrol the county’s 45 cities or staff courtrooms for security, Frizell said.

“I want to be a community sheriff who can think globally, but also be hands-on,” Frizell said. “Stanek’s leadership is toxic, and he has a bully mentality.”

He said the Deputies Association took a risk in endorsing him and claims Stanek has had somebody videotaping his campaign events.

Frizell also was critical of the time Stanek spends away from the county at national meetings and conferences.

“I’m an open book, very authentic as a leader,” Frizell said. “The office has grown stagnant. They are crying for change.”

Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield, said she supports Frizell because he’s more of a workhorse than a showhorse. She said she likes his emphasis and proven track record on community policing and said she believes her city would have a better safety net if the Sheriff’s Office worked more closely with local police.

Frizell has also come in for some criticism. A recently released yearlong U.S. Justice Department study concluded that he and other Police Department leadership must get far more aggressive in rooting out bad officers.

Stanek: Proud of his record

Stanek, a Minneapolis police captain when he first ran for sheriff in 2006, said he has significantly lowered violent crime in Hennepin County, built a new crime lab and 911 dispatch center, dealt with a heroin epidemic, combated human trafficking, and educated community leaders and elected officials about countering violent extremism.

He has created a large Community Advisory Board to engage diverse communities, and hired and trained the nation’s first Somali-American deputy. He also has worked to ensure that mentally ill jail inmates get immediate treatment. And during his second term, Stanek, citing constitutionality questions, said the county no longer will grant federal requests to hold immigrant inmates for 48 hours beyond their normal release times for possible deportation.

Since 2008, the Sheriff’s Office has worked with a staff reduction of nearly 10 percent, but has trained and recruited hundreds of volunteers and special deputies who contribute more than 40,000 hours each year. Stanek said he understands the deputies’ frustration that the County Board has frozen their salary five out of the past seven years (they did receive a 7 percent raise this year). His office meets with union officials monthly, he said.

Stanek, 52, who also lives in Maple Grove with his family, said he has no problem justifying time spent at national sheriffs’ conferences or talking about reducing gun violence with President Obama. A week after that 2012 White House meeting, the president visited a school in north Minneapolis. That can’t be a bad thing for county residents, Stanek said.

“My opponent says I should spend more time at home and shouldn’t be advocating public policy,” he said. “I shouldn’t be attending lunches about domestic abuse or shouldn’t be testifying at hearings about mental illness or heroin issues. These aren’t vacations. I think he’s out of touch with what it means to be an elected sheriff.”

Information-sharing among law enforcement agencies is key, Stanek said. He has held six heroin “town halls,” as it appears the county will surpass last year’s record 56 overdose deaths. And he tries to have coffee with a city police chief each week.

Beyond his many years with the Minneapolis Police Department, Stanek was a legislator from 1995 to 2003. He was appointed the state’s Public Safety commissioner and director of homeland security in 2003, but resigned in April 2004 when his involvement in a 1989 incident came to light. In that incident, Stanek allegedly shouted racial epithets and assaulted a black driver at the scene of a traffic accident in which he was involved.

Twenty-five years later, many of his nearly 100 endorsements have come from minority civic leaders.

He has won praise for the department’s rescue efforts in the bridge collapse as well as criticism for commissioning a DVD that highlighted his role.

Lt. John Delmonico, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said his board endorsed Stanek and not one of their own in Frizell because of the sheriff’s long track record as a police officer, legislator, state law enforcement agency head and sheriff.

“You always know where you stand with him, and he respects your opinion even if he disagrees with you,” Delmonico said. “We have a great working relationship.”

Facing his most credible opponent in his third campaign, Stanek appears confident and excited.

“I focus on results,” Stanek said. “Our work isn’t done. We’re just hitting our stride.”