Joe Leko isn't much of a showboater. He's worked behind the scenes and has held almost every job in the Dakota County Sheriff's Office, including head of the county's Drug Task Force, head of the patrol division and, since May, head of the jail.
On Jan. 2, he'll become the chief deputy, the No. 2 cop, in the office. He was one of four people interviewed by Sheriff-elect Tim Leslie and was the troop's choice.
"Joe, he's got a ton of potential and he redid basically our whole policy manual," Leslie said. "He's unsung. He's one of these guys who rolls up his sleeves and gets things done."
Leko, 44 and currently a captain, was the first in his family to become a law enforcer. He's originally from West St. Paul, where he went to the old Archbishop Brady High School. He now lives in Inver Grove Heights with his wife and two children.
He attended the University of Minnesota, intending to become a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources, but since that job required a law enforcement degree, he went to Inver Hills Community College. He worked part-time for the county on the sheriff's water patrol in college and the deputy he worked with recommended him for a job.
"I never looked back," Leko said.
Leko has worked as a court security officer, school resource officer, patrol officer, and a narcotics and drug investigator. In 2006, he was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the patrol unit. He was an agent/team leader for the Dakota County Drug Task Force from 2007 to 2009 when he became its commander.
He became a captain in 2011, then commander of the detention services unit, overseeing court security, transport and the jail.
Leko said he's proud of being an 11-year member of the county's SWAT team and the first to become an explosives breacher — one who uses explosives to get into homes and buildings.
As chief deputy sheriff, he'll be in charge of the office's day-to-day operations.
"Most important is to make sure we're providing an adequate and efficient service to the community," he said. He wants to stay "progressive, innovative and stay ahead of the curve, visionary."
"Body cams is a hot issue right now," Leko said. "We're currently exploring using body cams out on patrol and in our jail."
He also wants to continue to recruit young people for the profession and for the changing technology involved in law enforcement.
In his off time, Leko coaches his son's traveling basketball team. "That's my sanctuary away from work," he said.
Leslie said he knew he'd promoted the right person while he was preparing for the transition to sheriff and interviewing everyone in the department.
"One of the questions I asked was 'If you had a magic wand, what would you change about the organization?' "
An employee answered, "You've already done it."
"I said, 'What?' " Leslie recalled. "She says, 'You named Joe Leko your chief deputy.' That was pretty cool that she felt strong enough to say that to me."