By Tom West, Editor
With only a few days left before Tuesday’s primary election, Morrison County’s four sheriff candidates took only a few jabs at one another in their final debate Thursday.
Tom Justin of Royalton, who is a lieutenant with the St. Cloud Police Department and the only candidate who works outside the county, said that he believes in collaborating with other law enforcement agencies. He said a Richardson Township resident in the northeast corner of the county said she had called for law enforcement assistance and it took two hours for a squad car to arrive. Justin said he would have contacted Mille Lacs County for assistance if all of the county deputies were otherwise occupied.
Shawn Larsen, who now supervises all the other deputies for the department, said that the department already calls on other agencies for help, especially in an emergency, if they are needed.
Charles Strack, a Little Falls Police sergeant, said near the end of the debate that at times morale has eroded in the local law enforcement community, when it has been criticized. “We have family, we have friends,” he said. “I want to make it a happy place to work.”
Dan Rocheleau, a sheriff’s deputy, said that it is important to have the right people in the right position, adding that he thinks the department has a lot of good people in place right now.
About 100 people attended the event sponsored by the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce at the Morrison County Fair. Chamber President Deb Boelz, who moderated the event, said that questions were submitted to the Chamber in advance. None were taken from the audience.
Late in the debate, one of the questions was if any of the candidates had been the subject of an internal investigation, a reprimand or disciplinary action. Of the four, only Justin said that he had, explaining that he had received a letter of reprimand for a car crash about five years ago that was removed from his personnel file after six months. He also said that he had been the subject of many internal investigations, and had conducted hundreds of them himself. He said if a law enforcement officer has never been the subject of an internal investigation, he wasn’t doing his job.
Asked what they saw as the type of crime they believe is the biggest threat to the county, Larsen said drug use and burglary, Strack said drugs, Rocheleau said narcotics and Justin said violent crime, with drugs and the crime that comes with it being second.
Upon taking office, the first thing Larsen would do is designate a deputy to work with the Swanville and Upsala schools, make drug awareness presentations available to all schools and to make drug interdiction training an annual and ongoing part of the department’s activities.
Strack said the first thing he would address are any morale issues in the department. He also would do saturation patrols for drugs just as saturation is occasionally done for drunk driving now.
Rocheleau said he would add another person to the Central Minnesota Violent Offenders Task Force (the department has one task force member today) and would establish satellite law enforcement offices in all of the schools. Justin said he would first rearrange the schedule so that two dispatchers were always on duty 24/7.
All of the candidates outlined extensive law enforcement backgrounds and community involvement. However, after Tuesday only two will move on to the November general election. November’s winner will replace incumbent Michel Wetzel, who is retiring.