Former Hennepin County Sheriff critical of changes to Minneapolis Police Department

Rich Stanek, sheriff from 2006-2018, says support from elected officials is critical to policing

Rich Stanek is a former Minneapolis police officer, and was eventually elected Hennepin County Sheriff in 2006. Stanek also was a Minnesota State Representative from 1995-2003. Stanek, who was defeated by current Sheriff Dave Hutchinson in 2018, served three terms as Hennepin County Sheriff and talked to WCCO Tuesday about his concern with the state of policing in Minneapolis and across the metro area.

Stanek worked on the streets of Minneapolis as an officer and as Hennepin County Sheriff.  Stanek told WCCO’s Adam Carter the situation in the city is problematic for law enforcement officers.

“I think it was a good time to retire a couple of years ago,” Stanek said. “Honestly, I mean this thing with violent crime up over 25% and that's on the low end, some people have it as high as 35-40%. Murders now at 68 in the City of Minneapolis, reaching 84 from last year. Of course that record high of 97 back in 1995 when we were called ‘Murderapolis. Drive by shootings, shots fired, calls in the city up over 200 plus percent. You've got to ask what's going on and this ballot initiative does not help.”

Stanek is referring to an initiative in Minneapolis that the City Council wants to put to voters this November which could potentially change the Minneapolis charter, removing the requirement to keep a police department with a minimum number of officers. It then requires the city to create a new agency providing "a comprehensive public health approach to safety."

There have been several legal challenges to the proposal, including the language on the ballot which is again in front of a Hennepin County judge.  The decision on the ballot language needs to be resolved quickly with early voting starting in Minneapolis by September 17th.

All of the proposed changes and questioning of policing has made finding new officers extremely difficult, not just for the city but the county and even with the State Patrol.  Numbers are down across the country, something Stanek says will not be easily solved.

“Even the mayor of Minneapolis himself has said, look, the judge told them they had to hire more police officers to bring that minimum number up,” Stanek explains. "The mayor said, well, where am I going to find these people? How am I going to recruit them? We're having a hard time even retaining what we've had. They've lost over 200 at least, maybe up to a third of their sworn officers. There isn't anybody coming back in through the pipeline. You go to the law enforcement schools across Minnesota and where they were normally graduating 300, 350 400 candidates a year for us as chiefs and sheriffs to choose from, good candidates for policing, they're down to 40, 50, 60 candidates. And you know what? Some of those candidates unfortunately are recycled from other agencies. It's not a good situation. Who wants to be a police officer? Who in good conscience can recommend to their son or daughter, niece or nephew, neighbor that this is a field they want to get into and they have no political support whatsoever from their elected officials in the city of Minneapolis?”

Stanek also is critical of a new law change that no longer allows officers to justify deadly force by claiming that they used such force to protect themselves or another person from "apparent" death or great bodily harm. The new law now reads "to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm."

A judge in Ramsey County has stopped that law from going into effect for now while a lawsuit filed by several law agencies is reviewed.  Stanek says this not only would be an issue in Minnesota, it also would create problems with law enforcement assistance provided by neighboring states.

“It really changed the standard that had been in law for decades here in Minnesota and not just affected Minnesota peace officers, but peace officers from other states,” Stanek told WCCO. “Often times, when you're in Stillwater and something happens in Wisconsin, it's not far to go across the bridge. Same thing happens over on our border with North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Iowa border. It is problematic all the way around. Those law enforcement agencies outside of the state of Minnesota who normally work with Minnesota peace officers said we're going to have trepidation responding to calls and help for service because you're changing laws so much different from ours, to change that standard.”