Shots were fired, decades-old laws discussed and new ways to make transgender inmates feel more comfortable in jail were contemplated — all within the first few hours of Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson’s tenure as Hennepin County Sheriff this week.
On Monday, in front of a welcoming crowd at the Hennepin County Government Center, Hutchinson took the oath of office to succeed former sheriff Rich Stanek, who led the department for 12 years. In what was his first speech as an elected official, Hutchinson — who previously worked as a sergeant in Metro Transit Police Department — reaffirmed a campaign promise to improve how the agency interacts with the public and treats its employees.
“We’re here to protect you; we’re here to have you chase your dreams; we’re here to make sure that you never give up,” Hutchinson said at the ceremony.
Making the rounds
Dozens of supporters packed an area on the 24th floor of the government center for Hutchinson’s oath of office Monday afternoon. Some even donned gear from his campaign. The mood was celebratory, and remained high throughout the remainder of the day, when the sheriff hosted public receptions and spoke to the media.
The sheriff oversees an office of more than 840 people, a roughly $125 million budget and efforts to coordinate with public officials and law-enforcement agencies from across the county — a group that includes more than three dozen state legislators, two members of Congress and 45 city mayors.
By early Tuesday morning, Hutchinson, coffee in hand, was ready to get to work. He met his staff inside the sheriff’s office’s at Minneapolis City Hall, where crews were giving his office suite fresh coats of paint. The space was mostly bare, though Hutchinson says he eventually wants it to feel like a “safe space” for his team.
The first stop on the sheriff’s agenda for the day: the North Metro Range, in Maple Grove, where deputies train and complete yearly certifications for using firearms. Upon arrival, Hutchinson suited up in a protective vest and safety glasses, as well as a microphone headset. He did a series of target practices with a machine pistol called an MP9, as an instructor guided him.
It was Hutchinson’s first time shooting that type of gun — he carried an MP 340 revolver as a sergeant for Metro Transit — and he missed about 10 shots out of the couple dozen rounds he fired.
Up next was a stop at the sheriff’s Enforcement Services Division in Brooklyn Park, which houses the department’s patrol, water patrol, and SWAT teams. There, division leaders made a quick ceremony of handing Hutchinson special keys to the facility, and briefed him on department statistics, including how many people sheriff deputies typically transfer to and from hospitals, crime scenes or jail each year (about 14,000 in 2018). They also discussed April’s NCAA Final Four at U.S. Bank stadium, the biggest security event coming up in the county, and how planning for the event is well under way.
An ability to connect
Growing up in Burnsville, Hutchinson knew he wanted a career in law enforcement at an early age. He served as a police officer in Bayport, in Washington County, before moving to Metro Transit as a patrol officer in 2006. He most recently worked as a supervisor within the transportation agency, and now lives in Bloomington with his husband, Justin.
It was in his job with the Metro Transit police, overseeing officers on the north side of Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, where Hutchinson saw a lack of trust between civilians and officers. It’s also when he started thinking about ways for improving that relationship, he said, and concluded that the sheriff’s office needed new leadership — someone to set an example and a precedent for how other law-enforcement agencies in the area should do business.
But after no one stepped up to challenge Stanek, Hutchinson filed for the office himself. “This campaign is an example of overcoming odds, and I think a lot of people a few months ago had no clue we’d be here,” Hutchinson said at his swearing-in ceremony. “It’s a great feeling.”
As the first openly gay sheriff in the Midwest, Hutchinson cites his narrow win over Stanek as part of a push by the county’s progressive voters, particularly young voters and people of color, who want to shake up county leadership. Other races in Hennepin County during the most recent election — such as Angela Conley’s challenge to and victory over incumbent Peter McLaughlin for a seat on the county board — felt that political energy, too.
Colleagues of Hutchinson have said he brings an ability to connect with anyone, regardless of race or background, to his new position. Metro Transit officer Sidney Jones, who worked closely with Hutchinson when he was a patrol officer, says he has an ability to “build the bridge between police and the community.”
Says another former co-worker, Emmanuel Martinez-Cruz: “He’s not intimidating. He wanted to make the county better.”
‘That’s the new sheriff’
After the stops in Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park, Hutchinson and his team drove back to City Hall, where Chief of Staff Rob Allen — who previously held leadership roles within the Minneapolis Police Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office — led a lunch meeting to discuss items on the administrative staff’s to-do lists, while the sheriff handled a personnel issue in another room.
Among the staff’s tasks: establishing a new sheriff’s office logo to help the public know there is, yes, a new sheriff in town, plus different uniforms for deputies and email accounts for everyone in the office.
They also discussed the possibility of Hutchinson hosting regular open office hours or forums for the public, as well as changes to when — and how often — deputies will undergo ethics training.
Within the building is an office — called the Criminal Information Sharing and Analysis unit — where law-enforcement agencies across the state share data on crimes and other safety issues. Analysts there were studying Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and maps of drug overdoses to feed information to officers on the street.
Though Hutchinson had used the investigative center as a sergeant, he didn’t know how expansive it was — it’s among the biggest units of its kind in the country — until recently.
Next, Hutchinson and his entourage walked to the county jail across from City Hall. He and others surrendered their guns in a security safe before entering the facility’s holding and processing area. The group then walked through a portion of the 330-bed facility as inmates in orange jumpsuits watched.
One person yelled from a cell: “That’s the new sheriff!”
The group also talked to staffers whose job is to question people coming in and out of the jail, learning about the different booking steps.
Upwards of 36,000 people rotate through the county’s detention facilities annually, staying an average of 9 days, according to Captain Mike Wresh, who led the tour Tuesday. And the county jail is where Hutchinson has many changes planned. He wants staff to think differently about how they approach people who identify as transgender or non-binary, for example, since the jail is now essentially split by into male and female facilities. Staff members now ask incoming inmates on their preference for housing, and then those employees make the final decision for “where they’d be safest,” according to Wresh. Hutchinson said he plans to study booking practices in places elsewhere, such as San Francisco and the Seattle area.
During his campaign, Hutchinson also promised to change the way jail staff interact with foreign-born inmates and federal immigration authorities, whom Hutchinson argued Stanek went too far to help. The former sheriff said the office merely followed state law during bookings; Hutchinson’s ideas for reforming the procedures, within the bounds of Minnesota’s statutes, will be detailed soon, said Hutchinson’s director of communication, Jeremy Zoss.
Zoss also said the new administration wants to push for a law change so it can install a body scanner at the jail to prevent people from sneaking in drugs, similar to technology TSA agents use at airports.
Hutchinson wrapped up the work day at the government center, where he toured the holding areas for people waiting for court proceedings and security command centers for the government center. He highlighted growing demands on that section of the department, specifically within the division that helps mental-health patients accused of crimes. “They’re doing more work with less people,” he said.
For Hutchinson, that was among the main takeaways Tuesday: Deputies and staff are overburdened when it comes to what the department wants to do in helping people suffering from drug addictions or mental illnesses.
“It’s going to get better; we’re going to be a better agency,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to make sure we protect everybody’s rights, while also do what we do to protect the good people from the bad.”