Hennepin County on verge of electing first sheriff of color

2022-06-28 18:30:04 –

No matter who wins the race, voters in Hennepin County are on the verge of electing the first color sheriff.

The three candidates running for the county’s highest law enforcement job are black or Indian descent, a milestone in the county where a white man served as sheriff in 1852.

Candidates bring a variety of resumes, including a former Deputy Police Chief in the Indian community, a longtime Bloomington police officer, and a senior officer in the county sheriff’s office. Their campaign platforms range from increased accountability to increased community involvement.

The three oversee a $ 128 million sheriff’s office with 853 employees, oversee county prisons, and conduct drug and Homeland Security undercover investigations. The sheriff’s office also oversees the execution of county waters such as search and rescue operations.

The three candidates come from a wide range of backgrounds and have different worldviews, but George Floyd’s police killings have spilled over during the race.

“Some say they are avoiding the race,” said Major Dawana Witt of the Sheriff’s Office. “I’m proud to be a black woman, and I might happen to be the first black female sheriff the county has ever experienced.”

The sheriff’s job opened this year when the embarrassed David Hutchinson decided not to run for reelection after a term. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drunk driving after crashing a county-owned SUV after a sheriff meeting in Alexandria in December. After a temporary return to work, he is now ill for the rest of his term.

Joseph Banks, 51, a former Deputy Director of the Lower Sioux Indian Community and now a bail agent in Morton, Minnesota, said the Hutchinson accident brought a dark cloud to his office.

“What do his subordinates think if the top cop doesn’t follow the rules?” He said. “People are humans, but they must make wise decisions at that level of law enforcement.”

He hopes the sheriff’s office will play a more active role in the Minneapolis police. He said all 36 police stations in the county needed stronger checks and balances, and the sheriff’s office should have conducted its own investigation to clarify the Minneapolis police station’s problems. He wants to have a sheriff’s agent at each police station in the county.

The bank, which lost his bid to leave Richstaneck in 2014, has several non-profit organizations to work with people of color who are breaching the law or suffering from chemical addiction problems. Co-founded a commercial organization. He said police officers should use more discretion when dealing with people in the community rather than arresting them automatically.

“George Floyd has taught us that officers need to slow things down,” he said.

Floyd’s death struck a deep emotional chord with Jay Hanson, 37, who has been involved in law enforcement for over 20 years at Lakeville and Bloomington. Born in India and adopted at an early age, he majored in business before deciding to become a member of law enforcement. He was driving with his father, now a retired Minnesota Supreme Court judge, and asked if his father wanted to be a police officer.

“He told me I would have a great attitude towards it,” Hanson said. “Now I want to fight the biggest wave of crime in state history.”

He said he would like to have a sheriff’s office in northern Minneapolis and ask the county to buy an abandoned house where children can go after school to get a tutor and feel safe. He also wants to start a program to get more people of color to work in the sheriff’s office.

“It’s very humble for me to be elected Sheriff of the first color,” he said. “That’s something I never take for granted.”

48-year-old Witt oversees two largest divisions of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, court security and adult detention. She became the first female captain when she worked at the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office.

She teaches juvenile justice and American correction at Inver Hills Community College and is one of the state’s advisory boards on child protection and law enforcement education reform.

If elected, Mr. Witt said her priorities were prison inmates focused on targeting violent crimes, assisting police stations on community-specific issues, and supporting substance abuse and mental health. He said it would include creating a program for and acquiring employment. She also wants to stop the growing problem of secondary retention.

She said her career in law enforcement was a happy accident. Witt was working with a non-profit organization when her friend, who was her boy probation officer, took her on a tour of the county prison.

“She told me she needed more colored women in law enforcement,” she said. “I never really thought about it, but I applied to be a prison detainee.”

It changed her perception of law enforcement people who did not include much active involvement when she was growing up. But now, reassuring people is the most satisfying thing in the world, she said.

“If I win, I would be proud if someone says she’s someone in our community like me and the leader of the sheriff’s office,” she said.

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