Stearns County will elect a new sheriff this fall.
The race should be one of the most interesting and most important on the November ballot.
For the first time since 2002, there won’t be an incumbent sheriff on the ballot.
When John Sanner retired a year ago after serving for 14 years, the county board appointed Donald Gudmundson to fill out his term. Gudmundson says he doesn’t plan to run for election.
So far, two veteran law-enforcement leaders announced they are running. Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud and Stearns County Lt. Robert Dickhaus want to be sheriff. The Newsleader profiled Bentrud in the Feb. 16 edition. Dickhaus is featured in today’s edition.
Other candidates may still appear. The official filing period opens on May 22.
The sheriff supervises more than 200 professionals with an annual budget of $22 million. Voters should press the candidates on how they plan to use these resources to protect our communities.
Deputies patrolled more than 2,500 miles of county and township roads and handled more than 41,000 complaints in 2016.
In addition to patrolling and enforcement, the sheriff runs the county jail, which housed 7,600 inmates in 2016, the most recent year with available statistics.
The Stearns County 911 center dispatches for 31 fire/rescue departments, 13 police departments and six ambulance services. During 2016, the 911 center handled approximately 172,000 emergency and non-emergency calls.
Deputies provide security for the courthouse and other county buildings.
For cities such as Sartell and St. Joseph that have their own police departments, the sheriff’s office dispatches calls, deputies back up officers and investigators help with crimes against people and property.
Stearns County received more than 12,000 calls from Sartell and more than 4,800 from St. Joseph in 2016. Of the 34 townships in Stearns County, St. Joseph topped the list of calls with more than 2,100, according to the sheriff’s office annual report.
Every day of the year, the sheriff’s office touches the lives of hundredes of county residents. Most of those activities take place with little notice or attention.
But the sheriff is the key player when a major crime occurs. Questions still linger from the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling. The investigation haunted the terms of three sheriffs starting in 1989.
An American Public Media podcast called “In the Dark” asserted that, starting with the original investigation, the Wetterling case had been mishandled. A St. Joseph man who was originally a witness, Dan Rassier, later became a “person of interest” and he sued Sanner. The APM report also reported a poor record of solving crimes.
In this important race, voters should ask what improvements need to be made for solving high-profile crimes as well as the less notable cases. Candidates should be able to explain in detail how they will enforce the law in a sprawling county that stretches for 60 miles west from the St. Cloud metro area through small towns, farms and resorts.