Less than a week after his last day in office, outgoing Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek hinted he may try to take the job back in four years.
Stanek lost by fewer than 2,400 votes to Metro Transit Police Sgt. Dave Hutchinson in November. The vote margin didn’t require an automatic recount, and Stanek didn’t immediately concede the race.
Now he has landed an executive-level consulting position with the U.S. Department of Commerce to build a nationwide communication system for public safety and first responders. But he hinted he hasn’t necessarily put his old job behind him.
“I’m not closing down my ‘Stanek for Sheriff’ account any time soon,” he said.
In his 12 years as sheriff, Stanek, 56, fulfilled campaign promises made when he was first elected in 2006 to reduce violent crime, promote strong public-private relationships with businesses and empower residents to participate in crime-prevention efforts.
His office is considered a national innovator in criminal analysis, the fight against the opioid epidemic and mental health care for inmates.
Stanek didn’t win universal praise. He was criticized for overtime costs and budget fights, jail policies for immigrants and sending deputies to North Dakota for the Dakota Access pipeline protest. He was sometimes criticized for spending time out of state, but he leveraged those ties for millions in grant funding.
He took heat over his policy to ask inmates where they were born, which he said was required by law, though his office didn’t give that information to U.S. immigration agents.
“Former Sheriff Stanek had some policies and procedures that quite frankly violated many of the values of Minnesota families in the county, and how people voted showed they want a new mandate,” said JaNae Bates, communication director for Isaiah, a faith community coalition working for racial justice.
But supporters say he completely transformed the mission of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, making it an agency that did more than serve warrants and run the jail.
‘A lot of good sheriffs get beat’
The National Sheriffs’ Association certainly didn’t expect Stanek to lose his re-election bid when he was voted in as president for 2019. Grady Judd, the sheriff of Polk County, Fla., who considers Stanek a mentor, said Hennepin County’s loss is another law enforcement agency’s gain.
“People traditionally don’t necessarily vote for a sheriff because of his academic intelligence,” Judd said. “They vote because of their political heart. As a result, I see a lot of good sheriffs get beat.”
Stanek began his law enforcement career in Cottage Grove and served with the Minneapolis police for nearly two decades. He resigned as state Public Safety commissioner in 2004 for using a racial epithet and telling racist jokes in a deposition 12 years before.
When he took over as sheriff in 2006, Stanek initiated a staff-community engagement team and a civilian community advisory board. He developed an informational network with other agencies. And he changed jail policy to allow women to wear head coverings, a request from the Somali immigrant community.
The advisory board and Stanek brainstormed the idea of contributing deputies to patrol downtown Minneapolis during the summer. “He doesn’t mince words but really cares about his people,” said Gene Retat, a business owner who sat on the board.
Stanek bulked up his office’s investigative force, upgrading the crime lab, fighting for new technology and creating a violent offender task force and nationally recognized crime analysis unit. He led several national law enforcement groups and was on senior advisory boards for the FBI and the federal Homeland Security and Defense departments.
Stanek said he wants to take some time to re-energize and spend time at his cabin in northern Minnesota. He said he might consult with local or national law enforcement agencies. Or maybe make another political run.
“I will continue to leverage my experience on behalf of public safety,” he said. “There is no downside for me.”