Ramsey County Sheriff candidates talk community relations, opioids and mental health

It’s been eight years since there’s been a competitive race for Ramsey County Sheriff though the position has still changed hands twice since 2010.

Incumbent Sheriff Jack Serier was appointed to the position in January 2017 after Matt Bostrom resigned to take a position at the University of Oxford — Serier’s running to stay on as county sheriff.

His opponent is Bob Fletcher, the current mayor of Vadnais Heights and perhaps a familiar name for county voters, especially when it comes to sheriff. Fletcher held the position for 16 years before being unseated by Bostrom in the 2010 race.

The candidates answered questions via email including why they are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to office, what they believe to be the top challenges the county faces and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

 

Fletcher, 63, is married to Kris and has four children. He was elected mayor of Vadnais Heights in 2016 and also works as the director of Law Enforcement Audit & Data Services. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Hamline University in political science and government.

As a lifelong county resident, Fletcher said he understands the issues that matter to the community. Between his time as mayor of Vadnais Heights and as a St. Paul City Council member, he said he understands the importance of transparent government and citizen participation. 

Having served four terms as sheriff, he said he has experience “advancing public safety initiative and community partnerships,” adding he’s worked closely with correctional officers and deputies and can ensure a healthy work environment for both inmates and staff.

Fletcher said he is running because, “Keeping our community safe has always been my top priority.” He said his three-pronged approach of prevention, intervention and enforcement “is required to address the public safety needs of our time.” He said his seven-point “Public Safety Agenda” can be found at www.fletcherforsheriff.com.

A top challenge facing the county in the coming years, Fletcher said, includes the influx of people with chemical addiction and mental health needs into the criminal justice system, which requires detention reform. 

“The opioid epidemic took the lives of 150,000 people in America during the last three years,” he said. “As the father of one of those, I am committed to combating this problem with a variety of new initiatives.”

Fletcher also said “the widening gap of distrust between police and communities of color requires transparency in police operations, new training and mandatory use of body cameras throughout the state. Expanding the pool of persons eligible to become police officers will also help in this effort.”

If elected, Fletcher said he would implement the use of police body cameras sheriff’s department wide. “26 months after the death of Philando Castile the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department has still failed to start using body cameras. In fact they do not plan to use them until 2020,” he said. “This is unacceptable. Police body cameras increase community trust. As an expert on the technology I will expedite the deployment of their use to ensure open and transparent police operations.”

He also said he would implement a blueprint for detention reform “that provides services around the human needs of the incarcerated person, addresses disparities and ensures a safe and secure environment for inmates and staff.”

 

Serier, 50, is married to Kathryn and holds a doctorate in education studying leadership, policy and administration from the University of St. Thomas.

With more than 28 years of law enforcement experience, Serier said he’s worked in both “urban and suburban environments that reflect the different types of local municipalities that I represent as sheriff.” He said he’s worked in administration for both the St. Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, holding every administrative position possible in county law enforcement.

Through his experience and education, Serier said he has the ability to implement programs and policy that benefit the community. “A recent example of this is the work I have done with the City of Falcon Heights as we worked towards a successful implementation of being their community’s public safety services.”

He added he has experience working with a range of community leaders across Ramsey County and in the Legislature and that he’s a good listener. “I am good at listening to people and then translating that into policy, organizational change and positive community outcomes,” he said.

Serier said he’s running because for nearly the past eight years he’s been “engaged as a change agent at the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. ... I believe my role is to make sure that the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office is trusted by the community to be a good leader and partner in Ramsey County’s criminal justice system and overall government services.”

The main challenge for the county is “community health issues,” Serier said. “We have people in our community struggling with mental health issues inside and outside the criminal justice system, increasing use of opioids and other narcotics that are creating higher levels of mortality and long-term health problems, and issues in affordable housing and homelessness. These issues affect many people across our community and lead to a tragic loss of productivity of good people in the workplace and in many different aspects of community life.”

Serier said he had a number of priorities if elected, including expanding the sheriff’s office’s Community Circle of Race and Gender Equity to continue its diverse hiring practices; maintaining the character-based model of recruitment, hiring, training and promotion; continuing to create a high level of trust and great working relationships with the community, local law enforcement agencies and government; and continuing to manage the implementation of a new generation of squad cams, body cams and stationary cameras throughout the entire sheriff’s office.

 

For more information about voting, go to www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting.

 

-Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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