Opinion editor's note: Editorial endorsements represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom. The board bases its endorsement decisions on candidate interviews and other reporting.
As a top law enforcement leader in the Twin Cities region, the next Hennepin County sheriff will play a critical role in addressing citizen concerns about rising violent crime and racial justice. But the new sheriff's priorities must also include restoring the office's stability and credibility.
Sheriff David Hutchinson is not seeking re-election after a tumultuous term that's ending with him on medical leave after he pleaded guilty to drunken driving in connection with a December 2021 crash. Hutchinson is also facing hostile-workplace complaints and questions about his personal use of county funds.
Three candidates are vying to replace Hutchinson in the Aug. 9 primary, and the Star Tribune Editorial Board is endorsing Dawanna Witt and Jai Hanson. Voters can pick one candidate in the primary, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
The November outcome will make history: The winner will be the first person of color to serve the county as sheriff. The office has a budget of $128 million and oversees the county jail, conducts undercover narcotics investigations and is responsible for homeland security and enforcement on county waters.
Witt, 48, would be familiar with the office's operations. She already supervises nearly 500 of its 800-plus employees as the major in charge of court security and the jail. She began her career in law enforcement in 1999 as a detention deputy in the sheriff's office.
Witt joined the Dakota County Sheriff's Office in 2004 and rose through the ranks to become the first female captain. She earned praise for working with people inside and outside the office before returning to Hennepin County in 2019.
Witt has graduate degrees in management and public safety administration, and has other academic credentials in chemical dependency, family therapy and police science.
Witt's personal journey also has prepared her to lead the office. Raised in challenging circumstances in Minneapolis, she became a mother as a teenager and knows what it's like to struggle and be fearful of law enforcement. She decided to become the kind of officer she wanted to see — a public servant for all citizens.
She told the Editorial Board that she wouldn't do the job just from behind a desk but would be out in the community, listening to concerns, leading by example, and educating the public about what the sheriff's office does. Witt, who has a home in Lakeville in Dakota County and an apartment in Minneapolis, assured the board that she would meet the legal requirement for the sheriff's job and maintain a residence in the county at least 30 days before the general election.
If elected, Witt's priorities include targeting violent crime, collaborating with other agencies, reducing recidivism by helping ex-offenders with life skills, and recruiting and retaining more deputies. Witt has the right education, life experience and law enforcement background.
Hanson, 37, is a Bloomington police officer who grew up in Minneapolis after being adopted from India at age 2. He's running as a "true independent" for the nonpartisan position and said that in order to maintain that independence he has not sought endorsements.
The personable officer's violence-reduction plan involves prevention, prosecution and partnerships. He wants to work with other law enforcement agencies and the community, increase visibility in neighborhoods and youth programs, and ensure that deputies send solid cases to prosecutors.
He has done his homework, familiarizing himself with the sheriff's budget and staffing issues. If elected, he says he will evaluate staff to ensure the department uses its personnel effectively.
The third candidate is Joseph Banks, 52, a bail agent who made one previous unsuccessful run for sheriff during his 20 years in law enforcement. He's the former acting chief of the Lower Sioux Indian Community and police chief in Morton, Minn.
For more information about the candidates, go to this editorial at startribune.com/opinion and click on their full names.
Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith serves as an adviser to the board.