Election 2014: Hennepin County Sheriff

So FYI, I’m not going to blog about uncontested races unless someone’s running a very serious write-in campaign. In Ramsey County, the Sheriff (Matt Bostrom) and County Attorney (John Choi) are running unopposed. In Hennepin County, County Attorney Mike Freeman is running unopposed, but there’s a race for County Sheriff.

Also, for some reason Sheriff is one of those words I can never spell. I always want to put in two r’s. So I apologize in advance if I get it wrong somewhere in this post.

Here’s who’s running:

EDDIE M. FRIZELL
RICH STANEK

Eddie Frizell

Eddie works for the Minneapolis Police Department; I’m not entirely clear on how they’re organized, but he oversees a bunch of stuff including some precincts plus the Emergency Preparedness unit, the Emergency Services Unit, and Special Operations Unit (which includes the SWAT people). He’s also served in the MN Army National Guard for 25 years. It’s worth noting that one of the things done at the county level is a lot of the emergency preparedness stuff (I think) so the fact that he’s done it in Minneapolis is a good sign.

I actually went to a random EMS open house a few years back that was being held behind the police station in my precinct. They had fire trucks and ambulances and stuff that you could check out, and a K-9 unit with a dog you could meet. Anyway, I actually asked the guy from the Sheriff’s office what they do that’s different from the police department and the one thing that I actually remember is water rescues. The county has some boats and special equipment for cold-water dives, or something like that. (Obviously in a truly enormous disaster like the 35W bridge collapse, it’s all hands on deck.)

Anyway. Theoretically this is a non-partisan office but I will note that Eddie is endorsed by the DFL. Rich Stanek is a Republican (he served in the state legislature for a while) but is endorsed by a number of Democratic politicians. (I’m sure the Republicans would have endorsed him, too, but that’s a minus not a plus in Hennepin County.)

Eddie was also endorsed by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies Association, which is to say, the people who report to Rich Stanek endorsed Eddie. They voted 75% to endorse Eddie, with 15% saying no endorsement and only 9% saying “yeah, Rich!” AWKWARD. (Extra awkward if Rich wins.)

Philosophically, Eddie talks a lot about community policing. I find that really encouraging. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin in the era of Police Chief David Couper, who is probably the closest thing to a real-world Paladin I have ever encountered in real life. (Complete with a genuine commitment to the Lawful-Good way of life.) Couper was a big fan of community policing, possibly in the sense of inventing the concept (the Isthmus article says he invented it, but, well, Madisonians can be a little bit parochial.) (Incidentally, if you want to know more about David Couper, he has a blog about police work which is worth a look at.) Eddie notes that you won’t make much headway in fighting crime just with policing; he wants to see community engagement, partnerships, and rebuilt trust.

I’m a big fan of all that stuff. It would be really nice to see a Minneapolis Police Department that was doing some of it. Or even just going to meetings even if people are planning to show up and disagree with them.

Rich Stanek

Rich is one of those people who gets called “controversial” and “polarizing” a lot. Also sometimes “grandstanding,” “attention-seeking,” and “ambitious.” My impression as a Minneapolis resident was that he was a huge, enormous dick, though at least he was also reasonably competent and mostly effective. He has shown a stunning degree of tenacity simply in returning time and again to electoral politics and building alliances to overcome past scandals.

Back in 2004, then-governor Tim Pawlenty appointed him Public Safety commissioner. Rich then went down in flames over a couple of allegations, including the fact that he’d used the n-word during an off-duty altercation over a car accident in which he also beat up the other driver. The altercation itself happened in 1989, though in 1992 he had to testify under oath about his use of the n-word (which was apparently pretty extensive).

Given all that it’s pretty amazing that he not only made a comeback but won over a lot of black voters (the City Pages link above is to an article titled, “The Rehabilitation of Rich Stanek,” published in 2006).

While Sheriff, let me see. In 2012 he apparently had a woman arrested for trespassing when she was hanging out on a public sidewalk because she’d previously pissed him off. If you’re a supporter of marijuana legalization, be advised that Rich Stanek claims to have “seen firsthand in Hennepin County that there is a direct connection between marijuana and violent crime.” He goes on in that editorial to claim that “In the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center, marijuana is the most commonly detected drug among the 36,000 inmates who are booked into the facility each year. According to our most recent data, approximately 54 percent of males arrested for violent crime test positive for marijuana in Hennepin County.” — let me just touch on those claims really quickly before I move on. (a) Marijuana stays in your system a lot longer than most other drugs, so you’re way more likely to detect it with ANY drug test. (b) What percentage of the males arrested for violent crimes are drunk? (c) A lot of people use pot. Including some violent criminals. I’m not even going to get into the issue of people who self-medicate with street drugs — just, I mean, a lot of people use pot. If you’re an otherwise law-abiding, non-violent person who uses pot and knows Rich Stanek socially, you probably don’t invite him to smoke a bowl with you, and Rich might want to consider the issue of the pool of his research subjects here.

Anyway. I kind of think it’s a little unfair to hold against a law enforcement officer that he’s in favor of enforcing laws, but I’ll also note that he went to a whole lot of trouble to get the county to fund a cell phone tracking system that will let law enforcement know where you’re going even when you’re not using your phone, if you’re carrying it and it’s on.

I’m not honestly sure how much to worry about the KingFisher thing (which incidentally Jeff Johnson voted for, and now says he regrets). But despite being pretty blase about what corporations know about me (if you want a smartphone, you kind of get to pick: do you want Apple, or Google, to know basically everything there is to know about you?) and despite the fact that if they used this system to track me it would probably be because I’d been kidnapped, I think we are right to be extremely suspicious of law enforcement’s belief that they totally need to be able to track our location with sophisticated technology.

In 2007, Rich also got criticized for using public money to make a video bragging about the 35W bridge collapse response, taking credit for stuff that wasn’t actually his to take credit for. And last spring his son went driving off-road with a pickup truck through an environmentally sensitive area and got so mired in the mud he had to be pulled out. I don’t actually think politicians are responsible for the actions of their 22-year-old offspring, but the fact that no charges were filed afterward had me raising an eyebrow. But actually since I started researching this, charges got filed. I’m a little baffled by the gap — it’s one thing when someone is badly hurt or when it’s a really big crime and you’re gathering evidence or whatever. Does it normally take that long to go from incident to arrest when you do something that essentially amounts to vandalism on public land, and are caught while doing it?

Bottom line — I would vote for Eddie Frizell.

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