Sheriff Luke Hennen and drug task force commander Jason Arras politely chatted and joked before getting on stage to debate at the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce debate on Oct. 25.
But once onstage, Arras made it clear he thinks the sheriff needs to engage more with the public and law enforcement. The two are running to be Scott County sheriff in the Tuesday election.
Asked what aspect of the job is most important, Arras said getting out in public, quoting John Maxwell, saying, “You need a vision and a leader.”
Hennen said relationships, both internal and external.
“That’s why I’m getting things done,” he said, such as a mobile mental health unit and $1.9 million in state funding for a planned mental health facility in Savage.
Asked the top law enforcement issue in the county, Hennen said a lack of resources to deal with mental illness, which has pushed law enforcement to the front lines.
“And we’re not the right people” to deal with it, Hennen said, which is why he’s been working hard to attack the problem and find resources before people have to call police and afterward to get them stabilized.
Arras agreed, but added drug addiction.
“I’m right on the front lines,” said Arras, who is commander of the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force. “I see families being completely destroyed by drugs. It’s absolutely sad what we’re seeing.”
He said he teaches crisis intervention so the use of force isn’t used on people with mental health issues.
Asked about their experience managing budgets, Arras said he’s been task force commander for almost three years, managing a budget of almost $1 million. He said he has increased staffing by using grants, rather than increase taxpayer funding or membership dues.
Hennen said his budget is $15.9 million this year, his third year, and the budget includes the dispatch center, county jail, patrol and emergency management. He also oversees Arras’s task force budget.
Asked what steps they would take to prevent or minimize racial tension between law enforcement and the public, Hennen said he took on the issue when he started in the job as sheriff, creating a special community engagement staffer to build relationships and trust and training deputies on implicit bias.
Arras said the key is “engaging before anything happens” and getting to know your community. He noted he puts on implicit bias training and was endorsed by the Minnesota Latino Peace Officer Association.
Operating the jail is a big part of being sheriff, and the candidates were asked what they would change about it.
Arras said retaining employees, which saves money on training and increases safety. Hennen said he would continue working to keep correction officers focused on doing their jobs through changes such as bringing in mental health services and staffing.
Asked about the role of the county and sheriff’s department in enforcing immigration law, Hennen said to uphold the state and federal constitution “so you cooperate as required by that.”
Arras agreed, but said people should not live in fear, which is why it’s important to engage with the community “to not have people live in fear.”
Asked what, if anything, they’d change in their first month on the job, Arras said he would enhance participation with public safety leaders “because we need to be a team” despite different perspectives.
Hennen said just as he did after the primary election, he would meet with his opponent to talk about concerns.
In his closing statement, Arras said he’s enjoyed the campaign.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how to run for election, but I do know how to apply for a job,” he said. “I want you to hire me Nov. 6.”
Hennen said he’s thankful for the past 21 years working for the department.
“The community demands experienced leadership,” he said.