Sheriffs in Hennepin and Ramsey counties play a critical leadership role in law enforcement and public safety in the entire metro area.
The sheriff’s offices provide dispatch services and operate county jails, water patrol operations and crime labs. They also protect district courts and serve warrants. And for dozens of municipalities that don’t have their own law enforcement, sheriff’s deputies are the local police.
On Nov. 6, incumbents who now lead those law enforcement departments in Minnesota’s most populous counties — Hennepin and Ramsey — are seeking to keep their jobs. Both Sheriffs Rich Stanek in Hennepin and Jack Serier in Ramsey deserve to continue serving.
Stanek, 56, has served residents competently but not without controversy since he took office in 2007 for the first of three terms. During his tenure, he has made impressive progress in the areas of drug addiction, mental health advocacy, reaching out to various communities and diversifying his agency.
He championed successful legislation to allow officers to carry and use the drug naloxone to prevent overdose deaths and promoted the county effort to collect unwanted medications to prevent abuse and promote safe disposal. Stanek has worked with federal authorities on homeland security issues and has built stronger ties with local law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, Stanek has a history of mixing policing with public policy. He began his career as a Minneapolis police officer, rose to the rank of captain and spent several years as a Republican legislator and chairman of the House Public Safety Committee. And on a hot-button immigration issue, questions have been raised about his department’s cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If he’s re-elected, the Editorial Board will be watchful of his use of county resources on ICE’s behalf.
For his part, Stanek said he will focus on combating violent crime, decriminalizing mental illness, educating the public about opioid addition, recruiting and hiring a more diverse workforce, and protecting citizens’ constitutional and civil liberties.
His challenger is David “Hutch” Hutchinson, 38, a Metro Transit police sergeant with 15 years of experience. He disagrees with Stanek’s handling of immigration issues and says he would rethink how the office works with ICE.
Hutchinson also says he would update how service is delivered and seek more public input before decisions are made. He’s pro-union and thinks that 21st-century law enforcement should take a more pro-active, compassionate, inclusive approach to serving communities.
Though the sheriff’s race is nonpartisan, Stanek has a GOP “recommendation’’ and endorsements from two county sheriff’s groups and several labor organizations. Hutchinson is endorsed by the DFL and also has won the endorsements of labor organizations.
The Ramsey County Board appointed Serier, 50, to the post in January 2017 to fill out the term of former Sheriff Matt Bostrom when he resigned to teach in England. Serier should continue in the job because he is best positioned to move the department forward and embrace new ways of approaching law enforcement. He been in the field for 28 years, including in leadership positions in the Stillwater, Eagan and St. Paul police departments.
Like his predecessor, Serier has an appreciation for the social issues that affect public safety and has engaged with members of various communities across the county. As deputy sheriff and now chief, he has improved diversity hiring and promotions and has worked to create better support for those with mental health problems in the criminal justice system.
Serier’s been outspoken about his support for measures such as universal criminal-background checks and gun violence protection orders, which allow courts to temporarily remove weapons from individuals deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
He does not detain ICE prisoners in the Ramsey County jail, has eliminated booking fees that were often charged to people on initial arrest who are least able to afford them, and has exhibited fiscal responsibility by returning $1.2 million to the county in savings in 2017.
His challenger is former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, 63, who is now the mayor of Vadnais Heights. He served as sheriff from 1995 to 2011, when he was defeated by Bostrom. Fletcher is also a former St. Paul and Vadnais Heights City Council member and a former unsuccessful candidate for St. Paul mayor.
During his decades of public service, Fletcher has impressive record of youth violence prevention and working with the Hmong and Somali communities.
Fletcher listed no party affiliation or endorsements in campaign information submitted to the Editorial Board, but has run for other offices as a Republican. Serier is the DFL-endorsed candidate, and lists dozens of current and former elected officials as supporters.