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Four candidates for Morrison County Sheriff debate

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News Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

LITTLE FALLS - Thomas Justin, Shawn Larsen, Dan Rocheleau and Charles Strack all have something in common. They are vying to be the next Morrison County sheriff.

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Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel is not seeking a fourth term as sheriff.

The candidates were given the opportunity Thursday to speak their minds on issues during a Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored-candidate forum held in the pavillion at the Morrison County Fairgrounds.

Each candidate is asking for Morrison County voters to get out Tuesday during the primary election to vote for them, as the results will narrow the field down to the top two candidates for sheriff.

The chamber had 12 prepared questions that each candidate had a chance to answer in the scheduled 90 minutes forum. All the candidates have the same position on the conceal and carry permits. They all supported the Second Amendment that protect the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.

All candidates, except Justin, answered "no" when asked if anyone was subject to an Internal Affairs investigation, or any reprimands or suspensions as a result of an investigation. Justin said in his 28 years of law enforcement he had one issue about five years ago when a squad car crashed. He said it was in his personnel file for six months. Justin said if you do internal investigations there are always people who want to "say things" to make the other person look bad.

The candidates were asked to introduce themselves and talk about their volunteer activities. Justin is a patrol lieutenant for the St. Cloud Police Department. He has been with the department since 1997. Justin has been a Royalton School Board member for eight years. He is a member of Holy Trinity Church in Royalton

Larsen has been with the Morrison County Sheriff's Office for 14-plus years. He is a patrol sergeant where he is in charge of the direct supervision of deputies. He also is the lead instructor for firearms and use of force and commander of the Critical Incident Response Team which consists of operators of the Little Falls Police Department and Morrison County Sheriff's Office. He also is a firearms instructor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

Larsen is a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Little Falls and currently serves on the Youth and Family Ministry Team. He also is a member of the Stand Up 4 U Coalition in Morrison County, a youth alcohol prevention project.

Rocheleau began working as a part-time police officer for the city of Pierz. Then, in 2002 he was hired by the Morrison County Sheriff's Office as a patrol deputy and has continued as a deputy for the past 12 years.

He said he's been the county's senior K-9 handler for the last nine years, using the K-9's for narcotic searches, school and civic teaching throughout Morrison County.

He is on the Pierz Fire Department and Pierz Area First Response Team and a member of the St. Joseph Parish, Knights of Columbus, and Pierz Lions Club and he volunteers on the Holy Trinity and Pierz School District safety boards, and a director of the Harding-Lastrup Snodusters.

Strack is a Little Falls Police detective and Randall Police Chief. He began working part-time as a police officer in 1994 for Little Falls before being hired full time as a patrolman in 1998. Strack became a volunteer firefighter with Little Falls in 1996 and he continues to serve on the department. He also is a narcotics K-9 officer and was sergeant of the Little Falls Police Department for nine years. He was assigned to the Central Minnesota Drug and Gang Task Force in 2005 and continues today as a detective. The name of the task force now is the Central Minnesota Violent Offender Task Force.

He currently sits on the board with the Minnesota State Association of Narcotics Investigator's. For almost 10 years, Strack coached youth baseball and youth basketball while also serving on the Little Falls Youth Baseball Board for five years. Strack has been a parishioner of the St. Mary's Catholic Church in Little Falls for 24 years.

Candidates were asked what they believed was the biggest type of crime threatening the county and how they propose to address the problem. Drugs/narcotics was at the top of the list.

Larsen said everyone needs to work together and be educated on the fight against drugs. He said all law enforcement officers need to be comfortable with going on calls where drugs may be present, so therefore, he said there needs to be more ongoing training. Larsen said the public also needs to be better informed and the sheriff's office need to share data and information with the public more often.

Strack said drugs are the biggest issue for Morrison and other counties. He said it's tough for drug addicts to hold jobs which leads them to more crimes, such as stealing and burglarizing homes. Strack agreed with Larsen that sharing more information with the public would be helpful.

"The biggest thing is we are fighting crime every day and I don't think we share enough with the public," said Strack, who said releasing more information will allow citizens to help authorities with crime.

Strack said he is not a proponent of drug courts. He said there are laws for drug crimes and he doesn't believe that more statutes are needed. He said if all parties involved are doing their job, drug courts are not needed.

Rocheleau said the county has one deputy assigned to the task force and it needs more.

"We can't stop it (drugs)," he said. "But we can slow it down.

Rocheleau said one way to address the issue is to educate the county's youths on drugs and the choices young people make by having an officer at all the county schools. He said there needs to be a better relationship with youth and officers.

Justin, who agreed that there should be a liaison officer in every school, said broadening neighborhood watches would be helpful in lowering crime in the county as well as working with all law enforcement agencies outside the county as "criminals don't recognize county lines."

When asked what the candidates would change immediately in the sheriff's office, Justin said the only thing he would immediately change is to make sure there would always be two dispatchers on duty, not one.

Larsen said he would assign an officer to Upsala and Swanville schools, the only schools in the county without an officer. Rocheleau said he would like to get another person on the drug task force and have a satellite office at all the schools for officers to go to when they meet with students.

Strack said he believes the sheriff's office is a happy place to work and when people are happy they are more productive. He said he would like to see a program in place for seventh- and eighth-graders about drug addiction as he would like to "reach them before they fall to addiction."

The last question was what the word "transparency" means to them as in running a department. Justin said it means public trust. Rocheleau said it means basically his campaign slogan of "Stay in the Loop, Vote for Scoop." Larsen said it means by leading by example and being a positive role model. Strack said it's what the community sees what the sheriff's office is doing.

"I want the public to see that we are maintaining the rights of citizens," he said.

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Jennifer Stockinger
(218) 855-5851
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