Hennepin Sheriff's race pits Stanek against strong contender

Project Exile Press Conference
Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek speaks at a press conference, Oct. 6, 2014.
Yi-Chin Lee / MPR News

When Hennepin County voters go to the polls next month, they'll have to choose to either return a high-profile sheriff to office or side with his experienced challenger.

Sheriff Rich Stanek, first elected in 2006, has met with President Obama and members of the Obama administration about gun violence. He also has received a lot of media attention for his efforts to battle the increase in heroin trafficking and drug overdose deaths. All of that, he said, has paid off for residents of Hennepin County.

"When I came in as sheriff, I was very clear that I was going to leverage the resources, technology, personnel, training and equipment towards a reduction in violent crime countywide," Stanek said. "Over the last seven years the numbers speak for themselves in terms of that 36 percent dramatic reduction in violent crime."

Stanek's record may make for a solid reputation, but it hasn't necessarily won him friends in the department he leads. The union which represents county deputies endorsed his opponent, Eddie Frizell, a veteran of more than 20 years of the Minneapolis Police Department and a former military commander.

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Earlier this year, 88 percent of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputies Association's 270 members agreed to make an endorsement. Of those that did, three-fourths decided to endorse Frizell, 16 percent chose to make no endorsement and 9 percent endorsed Stanek. As of 2013, there were 340 deputies in the county.

Frizell said that's a clear indication morale is low, something he attributes to policies that don't allow flexibility for deputies who want to take time off.

"Who wants to go to work every day wondering if you can have your vacation off to go to a kid's softball game?" Frizell asked. "Who wants to be able to participate in their community events or at church groups? Right now these deputies have no schedule predictability."

Eddie Frizell and family
Eddie Frizell (right) announces his candidacy for Hennepin County Sheriff as his family looks on, July 16, 2014.
Brandt Williams / MPR News

A Sheriff's office spokesperson says a working group has been considering scheduling solutions for the past 10 months.

Although Stanek contends he has the experience that counts, Frizell also has a strong record of accomplishment.

Frizell achieved the rank of colonel in the Minnesota Army National Guard and served in Iraq as a commander of the Red Bulls Cavalry. He also has served in several different leadership positions during his 21 years on the Minneapolis police force.

During a summer fundraiser at a riverfront cafe in Minneapolis, he told a group of about two dozen supporters that he would listen to diverse voices.

"I promise you, that if given the opportunity to be your next Hennepin County Sheriff, that we will all be at the table," said Frizell, who is African-American.

Frizell said he wants to make the sheriff's office more fiscally sound, noting that under Stanek administrative costs nearly doubled between 2012 and this year.

That's too much, said Frizell supporter Wally Swan, a former member of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation.

"The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has a large budget and a very high percentage of it is going to administrative costs, rather than to the policing function," Swan said.

According to a county budget report, administrative costs did spike during that two-year period.

However, officials with the sheriff's office say the bulk of the increase came from moving all clerical employees from other parts of the office to the administrative services budget. The budget report also shows, despite the increase in administrative costs, the Sheriff's Office spent more on enforcement.

Stanek is a former state commissioner of public safety and a former Republican state legislator who served in the House of Representatives between 1995 and 2002. Like his opponent, Stanek is also a high ranking Minneapolis police officer on a leave of absence.

Stanek said he thinks the reason some deputies are endorsing his challenger is because Hennepin County deputies are some of the lowest paid law enforcement officers in the state.

"That is a result of no salary increases given to them by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners over a period of years," he said. "I accept it for what it is, I'll continue to work with them. And make this workplace the best place we can."

Besides the reduction in crime, Stanek is proud of the department's efforts to hire more minorities. Since becoming Sheriff, Stanek says the number of people of color who work for his office has increased from seven percent to nine percent. (Frizell also supports diversifying the ranks of the Sheriff's Office.)

Although Stanek may lack support in his department, he has been endorsed by both the Minneapolis Fire and Police unions.

Sgt. John Delmonico, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said he and other city officers support Stanek in part because the sheriff has worked hard to build strong relationships between the two law enforcement agencies.

"We work jointly with them on many fronts as far as narcotics and safe streets and walking the beat on Nicollet Mall," Delmonico said. "So we have literally probably daily interaction with the Sheriff's department and they've always been really good."