Goddard makes case for continuing his sheriff tenure
The sheriff said the belief by some, including his opponent Eric Klang, that a negative work environment prevails in the sheriff’s office is not only far from the truth, but an unfair characterization thrown about by people on the outside looking in.
BRAINERD — Maintaining a steady hand at the helm to build on successes toward a safer Crow Wing County motivated Sheriff Scott Goddard to seek a second term.
With a relatively new administrative team surrounding him, Goddard said his nearly 30 years in the law enforcement field and what he’s learned while working his way up in the sheriff’s office are the right mix to keep it moving in the right direction.
“Everyone’s stepping into new roles with, you know, chief deputy, our lieutenants, etc. They bring a lot of leadership skills with them, but not necessarily the experience and the knowledge of ‘been there, done that,’” Goddard said during an Oct. 4 interview. “And that’s really an important part of the job is knowing Crow Wing County, knowing our relationships with our community, and really with all of our partners in and around Crow Wing County.”
Goddard said the belief by some, including his opponent Eric Klang, that a negative work environment prevails in the sheriff’s office is not only far from the truth, but an unfair characterization thrown about by people on the outside looking in.
“I encourage you to go talk to our deputies, go talk to our staff, go talk to our support staff, our dispatch staff, our correctional staff. People love it here. And we see it and we hear it every day,” Goddard said. “ … Our turnover has not been dramatic. My opponent, well, this is the fifth time he's ran for the sheriff's office. … Last time, he came in third on a race of two. And obviously you have to have a message trying to move forward. But his messaging has never sunk in with our people, and his past election results, I think, speak volumes of that.”
Goddard, a lifelong Crow Wing County resident, began his law enforcement career in 1993 with the Breezy Point Police Department and worked part-time with the Pequot Lakes Police Department. After a stint at the sheriff’s office and a return to Breezy, the husband and father of two made his way back to county law enforcement and has remained since.
In the wake of the retirement of former Sheriff Todd Dahl, under whom Goddard served as captain, he defeated Sheriff’s Deputy Pat Pickar to win the 2018 election.
Goddard pointed to his office’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as a major accomplishment under his watch, along with the development of a teamwork atmosphere he said makes the work fun.
Just over a year into Goddard’s tenure, the public health emergency prompted by the spread of the coronavirus upended typical practice and forced the agency to rethink nearly every aspect of its operation, from dispatch to patrol and from the jail to the courts. Changes included rearranging jail operations to allow for quarantining and a temporary restriction on booking nonviolent offenders to reduce the potential for more infections.
“Everything that we dealt with had to be rewritten, and it was challenging times but we learned a lot,” Goddard said. “And also it's very rewarding when we all step back and look at what we did. And then watching our model almost be copied in other areas of the state and other cities of what we've already done and what we implemented. It’s rewarding but it's taxing at the same time.”
Goddard said the pressures endured by everyone in the sheriff’s office — but especially corrections officers in the jail, who faced increased risk to themselves working in enclosed spaces with many variables — contributed to the relatively negative engagement survey results his opponent has touted as proof of an uninspired workforce.
Goddard said the survey wasn’t mandatory in his office, which led to a lower response rate than other county departments. County Administrator Tim Houle said the survey wasn't required in any other departments, either, although employee participation was highly encouraged within departments headed by appointed leaders.
“(The pandemic) was a nightmare. And the result showed it and rightfully so,” Goddard said. “ … I will say it did not surprise me at all, because of the fact of the nature of what we just went through with COVID. And working a, you know, tough job in tough areas, and doing a damn good job at it. But the survey results, to me, showed exactly what it was: tough people doing a tough job. And their concerns were heard.”
While the pandemic was a significant factor in much of Goddard’s tenure thus far, an increase in the number of mental health-related calls requiring response by deputies is another issue for which the sheriff wants to find more solutions. Dollars headed to Crow Wing County as part of settlements with opioid distributors are a great opportunity for improvements, he said, and he’d like to see some serious movement toward establishing a regional mental health facility. The jail is often a dumping ground for people who could be better served, he said.
Goddard said Crow Wing County already has the land and infrastructure near the current judicial center and jail facility. With things like the kitchen already sized for a much larger facility, Goddard said an adjacent mental health treatment center could benefit from what’s already built. This is likely a longer-term goal than four years, he said, but a lot can be done in that time to move closer to something that could be a big benefit to the community’s future.
“Imagine we're not responding to the call. The person isn't trying to medicate themselves with illegal drugs or substances. They're able to hold a job, they're able to be part of our community. I mean, it's really going to be from start to finish, you know, a solution,” Goddard said. “ … If we had a facility that we could house people, I can see a great number of people that would not go in our jail and would have better treatment.”
Goddard said such a facility would take a number of collaborative partners coming together, such as cities, counties and the state. And despite criticism, Goddard said he knows how his office can be a good partner with any number of agencies and governments. He said if there are trust issues, they aren’t on his end.
“We're a strong partner with every agency that we’ve got out there. If anyone wants to call me, everyone has my phone number. If there's an issue or a problem, please bring it to light. But it hasn't been brought to light except for a campaign idea or a campaign topic,” Goddard said.
Goddard said it’s an absolute joke that anyone would say he doesn’t show up for work or isn’t present in the office.
“I know it's been a long time, it was 20 years ago when he (Klang) was elected … but I think he would recall the duties and job of the sheriff,” Goddard said. “It's not a Monday through Friday job. You are on call 24/7/365. And to say that I'm not here is simply nonexistent.”
While recruiting and retaining law enforcement officers is a challenge everywhere, he said, the sheriff’s office will not lower its standards in what it seeks in a deputy candidate. He said the job of law enforcement can be taught, but communication skills and a genuine interest in people are a must for him.
“We have high standards. I know there's people that have not made our standards and are working in communities around here. And kudos for them, you know, for following their goal of becoming an officer but we won't lower our standards on any level,” Goddard said. “And we've got great people, we've got a great office and this myth of some big problems or misguided — misguided treatment is simply untrue.”
Goddard said he’s a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and the U.S. Constitution in general, but he does not foresee a situation in which the sheriff’s office would ever be directed to go to people’s houses to take away their guns. He said he does not support red flag legislation as he believes it’s currently written, because it focuses only on gun removal and not on helping the person who might be having a crisis.
The Strategic Threat Assessment Response Team in the sheriff’s office is making an impact in that area, he noted, on a voluntary basis — legislative action isn’t needed for law enforcement officers to make good judgment calls in cooperation with family members and other community partners.
Ultimately, Goddard said he’s incredibly proud of his team and hopes he’ll be able to continue leading them through the next term.
“In my mind and I say it as it is true, we are safer now than we were last year, than two years ago, than three years ago, than four years ago, than five years ago, etc., etc., etc.” Goddard said. “Our staff continues to excel. I would put our staff on professionalism, training, equipment, knowledge and know-how up against anybody in the state of Minnesota.
“We’re out there, and I heard it numerous times during this campaign: ‘We’re seeing more of you.’”
UPDATE: This story was updated to add clarity to a paraphrased statement from Goddard concerning a 2021 employee engagement survey.
The survey was not required among any county employees, although County Administrator Tim Houle said participation was highly encouraged in departments headed by appointed leaders.
The Dispatch regrets the error.