A couple of workers patched holes and brushed beige paint Tuesday morning on the walls of Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson’s new office. He had already met with deputies and been assigned an e-mail address, and a colorful Post-it note with his name was stuck outside the office door to identify the occupant.
So it was on the sheriff’s first full day in office as he stepped into a position held by Rich Stanek for the last 12 years. And if Hutchinson felt overwhelmed making the leap from Metro Transit police sergeant to head of the largest sheriff’s office in Minnesota, he did a good job hiding it.
Maybe that’s why he decided the first stop of the day would be the North Metro Range in Maple Grove, where he tested for his yearly duty weapon qualification.
After he finished, Hutchinson said he qualified with perfection, hitting inside the body target. A colleague joked that he should grab a broom and sweep up his shell casings.
Followed Tuesday by two reporters, one from the Star Tribune, Hutchinson spent much of the day joking with his new office staff, even poking fun at his beefy build. But certain moments drove home the reality of being sheriff, such as receiving a master key that starts every squad.
Wherever he stopped during the day, he repeated his campaign promise to be “a sheriff that truly represents all residents.”
His second stop was the Enforcement Services Division in Brooklyn Park, which consists of patrol, warrants, civil actions, water patrol, inmate transport and the SWAT team. Command staffers filled him in on yearly statistics, increased drug sweeps and a desire to rejuvenate the K-9 unit.
When the group touched on the deputies who staff North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Hutchinson said he wants to do the same at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.
“There were 400,000 transports and dozens of high-risk warrants last year that went virtually problem-free. Hennepin County was the first sheriff’s office in the state to certify their drone operators,” he said. “The best work being done by any sheriff’s office in the state is Hennepin County, but the public doesn’t hear about it.”
‘So much is expected’
Hutchinson planned to have a working lunch with several of his civilian administrators but spent most of that time on a personnel issue. The group met with Chief of Staff Rob Allen, a longtime leader with the Minneapolis police.
They talked about management of larger office projects, the hiring of a public information officer and continued efforts to treat inmates with opioid issues. The Sheriff’s Office will consider possible recommendations from a report on the subject that will be released next week.
Allen raised a number of changes involving jail immigration policy, from telling federal authorities daily about inmates who are in the country illegally to ethics training. Right now, employees receive such training maybe once or twice a year. Hutchinson said that should be changed to a daily one-minute ethics message.
“Studies have shown the current timing of training doesn’t reduce ethics violations,” he said. “So much is expected of law enforcement, and ethics policies are constantly changing. How do you adapt more quickly?”
Hutchinson, on his way to the Criminal Information Sharing and Analysis Unit in downtown Minneapolis, spotted a frequent bus rider with some mental health issues he used to look out for when he worked at Metro Transit. He said he would like to expand the unit, considered one of the best in the country.
“I had used them for information when I worked at Metro Transit, but I never realized the extent of their work,” he said. “This is 21st-century policing.”
Law enforcement agencies contact the data analysis unit for real-time information on suspects, addresses and criminal histories; more than 6,000 information requests were filed with it last year. It works on missing person and sex trafficking cases and examines patterns of drug overdoses throughout the country to predict what might be coming to Minnesota.
The data analysis unit also shares information with private business because their security is often the eyes and ears on the street, said Sgt. Dennis Jahnke. If there is a major incident in the county, the unit is ground zero for information, he said.
‘The new sheriff!’
A visit to the jail and a meeting with courthouse security workers ended the sheriff’s day. An inmate saw him and shouted, “That’s the new sheriff!”
Jeremy Zoss, Hutchinson’s director of communication, said the sheriff plans to install a body scanner at the jail to help prevent drugs from getting in. The scanner, similar to those used at airports, would need legislative approval because only federal agencies can operate them, he said.
Hutchinson brought up the issue of transgender inmates with jail administrators. He said that while they are housed safely in jail, more could be done to make it less embarrassing for them.
When speaking to court security staffers, he said he wanted to increase their numbers. That was necessary, he said, because the county attorney’s office is prosecuting more felony crimes, which means more court hearings and trials.
Mental health issues are a top priority for Hutchinson, and he wants more funding for outreach workers and other initiatives. As with felony court cases, the number of defendants in mental health court also is on the rise, he said.
“Our office does more with less,” he said. “I want our office to be the most forward thinking and admired in the country. That can be done with input from inside the office and the public.”