Sgt. Jason Arras

Capt. Jason Arras

Two people are vying to be the next Scott County sheriff. We asked them a variety of questions about how they would do the job, and here are their answers, which have been edited for brevity: 

Jason Arras

Why are you running for Scott County sheriff?

The citizens of Scott County have an opportunity to elect a new sheriff this year. I'm running because I believe I'm the best candidate for the job after spending my career fighting crime and serving as a leader in the community. I’m currently the commander of the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force. The opportunity has exposed me to many law enforcement leaders. I thoroughly enjoy working with different communities to achieve the best possible results. What I look forward to the most is providing the highest quality service and safety along with being involved on a consistent basis!

It’s important to get out and see what’s actually happening firsthand in our community. As sheriff, I would continue what I’m doing in my campaign and what I’ve done for the last 20 years in law enforcement. Connect with people and build open lines of communications with the citizens. I’ll be an ongoing presence in Scott County! When you see it “upfront,” it has a powerful impact on a person and I’ll be able to address things in an effective and prompt manner.

Being heavily involved in the community is what’s going to make a difference! I’m running my campaign like I would as sheriff, out with the people. My resume is online and every doorstep and person I speak with is a job interview. Education, experience, training, and leadership matter. I am the best person to lead Scott County.

What are your top three priorities?

Partnerships, service and change.

Partnerships

Effective partnerships are essential to public safety. I have spent a considerable amount of time speaking with a variety of public safety leaders. Many have expressed their displeasure about the lack of active participation from the county. Comments such as, “They have put themselves on an island” is a recurring theme. Bridges of partnership will be built with our police and fire departments.

As sheriff, I will partner with our fire departments as they are an essential function in public safety and are a priority for the county’s emergency management response. Police departments will see regular attendance in investigation meetings. Very few criminals limit their activity to one city or area. There have been countless cases that cross jurisdictional boundaries that, for the last two years, Scott County has chosen not to be active participants.

Service

As your sheriff, I will provide the highest quality of service for all of Scott County. I have been working with the Shakopee Police Department, the busiest city in the county, while working closely with Savage, Prior Lake, and the Mdewankanton Sioux Community for the past 20 years. Within the last 2.5 years, I have developed relationships and partnerships with federal, state and all local county leaders. The Scott County Sheriff’s Office must be reaching out to all of our partners.

As your sheriff, I look forward to implementing strategic solutions to gauge our service, such as surveys about the service Scott County provides. This is important and long overdue to evaluate where we are excelling, but also where services are falling short.

Change

Through many conversations, one common theme was a need for change at the sheriff’s office. We must listen and partner with municipalities and gain Scott County employees' perspectives to incorporate change.

Scott County needs to be forward thinking and have a leader to lead them there. John C. Maxwell says, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the mission.”

The last two years, Scott County has distanced itself from the public and public safety. This poor strategy is due to the exact type of leadership we cannot have as the sheriff. A good communicator solves problems. One of my personal strengths is communication and it's going to take a good communicator to solve the issues Scott County has and prepare the department for the future.

Do you think the jail operations should change in any way? 

Yes, starting first with recruitment and retention. The turnover is unacceptable and is costing the taxpayers.

Staffing levels need to be stabilized and increased. The No. 1 priority in a pre-trial facility is the safety and security of staff and inmates. The staffing levels are currently and have been consistently below minimum requirements. This sets up the staff to fail in health and welfare checks, monitoring quads, proper linen exchange and untimely inmate releases.

Deputy staff are being forced to work overtime on a regular basis, which adds risk to staff safety. Today’s inmates are far more volatile than they were 10-15 years ago and with the rise of inmate assaults on our deputy staff, they are at greater risk of serious injury.

As an instructor at a college, I have the opportunity to meet and recruit solid employees through networking.

I found that a significant number of jailers have three years or less experience. The Scott County Jail must find ways to retain these employees. Retention increases quality of service and safety to the staff and inmates while minimizing liability. In order to keep high caliber employees, the employer needs to have a solid training plan in place, as well as good morale. There should be a training team to do classroom on-boarding of new deputy staff. 

The overall jail atmosphere is negative and change needs to come from the top. First line supervisors need to be directly involved in the operations and working with deputy staff which helps boost morale. My philosophy is administration needs to be seen and not just heard. 

Second, a discharge plan needs to be in place to help curb the revolving door of low-level offenders returning because of mental health needs, alcohol, and/or narcotic addictions not being treated. Pre-trial facilities have become the holding facility for people with mental health needs, and jail does not offer the proper care they need. Medical staff needs to be involved in this discharge plan to make sure they are set up with the correct services on the outside. 

Streamlining the intake process to put those patrol officers back into our communities is a priority for me. Safe and efficient transferring of arrestees gives our citizens what they wan: More cops on the street keeping their homes and businesses safe.

Please see the state Department of Corrections report for the Scott County Jail: https://mn.gov/doc/assets/Scott%20County%20Jail_2018_tcm1089-342010.pdf.

Do you think the law enforcement radio system should be changed in any way?

Similar with the issues facing our jail, a key area of dispatch is recruitment and retention of great employees. Dispatchers go unnoticed and do not receive the recognition they deserve at times. They are a critical function and partner with public safety. Dispatchers work hard and are the front lines with the citizens and are the communication line to police and fire.

Second, our radio system does not need to be changed, but our Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system does. The CAD system also known as Law Enforcement Technology Group (LETG), which went live in July 2016 in Scott County, has numerous flaws. The system from the onset did not receive the support to fix issues as they arose. The “support staff” left the day after the initial rollout of LETG. Sometimes errors are left until the next system update which may take as long as a month. From an officer’s perspective, LETG has been terribly inconsistent. What has worked one month subsequently fails another month. The system has to function much better.

Here are a few of the ongoing issues:

  • Communication between the officer computers and the dispatch system is not working properly.
  • The LEGT system frequently shuts down, so dispatch resorts to a paper log.
  • Shutdowns have lasted up to an hour.
  • Shutdowns have occurred while dispatchers are in the middle of a call.
  • LEGT has been known to “jump,” erasing notes from calls between public safety and dispatch.

This must be a larger priority. The municipalities are dissatisfied with the current system. Currently, there is a lack of partnership and leadership from Scott County to fix or resolve the issues. The system is costing municipalities/taxpayers thousands of dollars.

As sheriff, I will put a task force together to simply focus on improvements with the current system. This is a complex situation and needs results or at least a path for improvement for public safety and the citizens of Scott County.

What do you promise to accomplish during your term, if elected?

I’m a highly motivated person who strives to be the best. My outgoing positive personality allows solid relationships to be built on multiple levels to maximize benefit while reducing cost. My training, education and experience combined with my personal traits has prepared me for this very important leadership position. But I'm not afraid of tough fights.

Here is what I will do as your sheriff to keep Scott County safe:

  • Improve partnerships and service.
  • Law enforcement mentorships for at-risk youth.
  • Hold an annual Scott County safe school conference.
  • Homeland Security Emergency Management Safe School Training.
  • Work with education and mental health professionals to implement policies that ensure our kids are safe in school.
  • Target drug dealers and violent criminals to reduce the amount of drugs and crime in Scott County.

As your sheriff, I will always listen to the citizens I serve. I’m fully committed on servitude leadership. Providing the training, equipment, resources and a healthy working environment for the employee to reach their highest potential is one of the biggest rewards I can have as a leader.

Seeing employees attain their professional goals has been, and will continue to be, career satisfaction for me. When they improve, we all improve. I don’t subscribe to the “rank is right” or “lead by leverage” mentality. I’m an encourager and want to utilize each person’s talents. When people have a purpose and a clear path, they have the desire to continue to work hard. I will empower others to be their best, lead from the front and connect with ALL the citizens of Scott County.

Luke Hennen

Why are you running for sheriff?

As a lifelong resident of Scott County, I knew from an early age that I wanted to stay in this community and serve in a way that made it a better place, not only for my family but for every person who calls Scott County home. I am running for county sheriff with this intention: Let’s work together to build safe communities to live, work and play. This job is not only about safe and effective operations of the jail, dispatch center and law enforcement services. It is also about collaboration and coordination with the community.

I am running because I believe relationships are the key to successful public safety and proudly empower all my staff to focus on building relationships in their day-to-day work. Examples of this include how when I first became sheriff, I created a deputy position focused on community engagement. We have also increased attendance at our annual citizens’ academy. The goal is to improve community trust and build relationships. One of the best ways to keep our neighborhoods safe is through diligent work with city councils and township boards — listening and responding to concerns in their communities.

I am running because I want to continue the progress we’ve made in addressing the needs of those experiencing mental health crisis. As a jail employee and a road deputy, I saw how those experiencing mental health crisis do not receive the services they need. I prioritized CIT training to enable staff to better handle those in crisis, and worked with local groups to increase available mental health services.

I am running because I have the knowledge (Master’s of Public Administration) and experience (since starting as a jail employee in 1997) to continue leading this complex organization of 170 employees, including deputies, jail staff and 911 dispatchers. I have proven that I am a leader who collaborates and engages with constituents. The Scott County Sheriff’s Office is a professional team, extraordinary in their approach to crime prevention and engagement within the community.

I am running because I enjoy leading those who are committed to improving public safety and providing excellent customer service as they answer 911 calls, respond to emergencies, patrol our lakes, manage difficult inmates, process gun permits, and provide courthouse security.

What are your top three priorities?

My top three priorities are to increase services for those with mental illness, take steps to curb opioid abuse and to enhance safety throughout the county by maximizing resources.

One of the main issues affecting our community is the lack of mental health resources. This has resulted in pressure on law enforcement to assume responsibility in mental health situations. To help those in need, I prioritized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). All deputies on patrol are now CIT certified, and I have a plan in place to certify jail staff and 911 dispatchers in the next two years.

I will continue to partner with the Scott County Mobile Crisis Response Team and the Regional Mental Health Facility. These resources provide compassionate and appropriate services for those in crisis. I will continue to develop procedures to divert those in need to professional mental health services services, avoiding the criminal justice system.

Another public safety issue impacting Scott County is the rise in opioid abuse. As your sheriff, I have seen the impacts of drug addiction on families, and throughout our criminal justice system. I know we need more tools than just enforcement.

Through the Scott County Drug Prevention Task Force, I will expand the drug prevention education in our schools and increase awareness of our “Take it to the Box” medication disposal program. My staff continues to see successful outcomes as we continue to collaborate with the drug treatment court. Last year, I issued Naloxone to our deputies and jail staff so they can save lives, including their own, should they be exposed to dangerous synthetic opioids.

My third priority is maintaining and expanding the collaborative efforts between our cities and townships. We have great working relationships with the local city police departments and we rely on each other for assistance. Additionally, as a partner with the city police departments, I have increased the resources available to local communities, while keeping costs low. Examples of this include new positions like our crime analyst and computer forensics specialist and the K9 program. This model provides all residents with a high level of service without additional cost to the individual city.

Do you think the jail operations should change in any way?

Yes, I believe a system as complex as the Scott County jail should change to keep pace with the needs of the people we house, the staff we hire and the technology available to improve our services.

The jail is the largest division of the sheriff’s office and accounts for nearly 40 percent of the sheriff’s office staff and budget. Last year we averaged 147 inmates in our facility each day. As sheriff, I am responsible to provide housing, food, medical care and mental health resources in addition to ensuring there are not escapes, assaults or deaths in our care. Mismanagement of our jail would create costs and litigation, in addition to the negative impacts on our employees and the community.

I am proud of the experience I gained 21 years ago when I started my career in our jail. My understanding of the complex workings of the jail assists me as I make decisions with our leadership staff to manage the operations of the facility.

Similar to any business, the operations in our jail need constant attention and adjustments to stay current with the needs our community. The needs of the jail 20 years ago and today are quite different; as sheriff I have been actively involved in researching and implementing improvements. The operation of the jail is currently impacted by an increase of inmates experiencing mental health crisis, including those suffering from addiction. Additionally, the jail population is more violent than it was two decades ago. With these changes, our corrections officers are pulled away from their core duties as more time is devoted to these specific needs.

Since becoming sheriff I have worked with jail staff to identify these problems, develop solutions and propose changes to the County Board. In 2016 the County Board agreed to increase nursing staff and as part of the drug treatment court implementation, a jail reentry coordinator position was created. In 2018, I worked with county staff and the County Board to implement the mobile mental health crisis unit.

An additional change in jail operations I recommend is an upgrade of our aging video visitation. An upgraded system will allow families improved access to visitation options and will reduce the staff hours for this necessary task. All of these changes have one goal, improving the ability of our corrections officers to focus on their primary duties of keeping everyone in our jail safe.

Do you think the law enforcement radio system should be changed in any way?

No, our current 800mhz radio system that went live 10 years ago is meeting the current needs. That said, radio systems need constant attention and maintenance, much like any computer network system.

The system was built by Scott County and the Sheriff’s Office maintains the system and services the radio needs throughout all of our cities and townships. This includes nearly 1,000 radios on the system used by law enforcement, fire, public works, public health and transit. When the system was built the maintenance and service was handled through contractors.

Since I became sheriff, my staff and I devoted time to research how this was working. We decided that these contracts were not meeting the needs of our community and were not a wise use of taxpayer resources. We discovered that although they were keeping the radio system operational, the system was not being maintained in a proactive way that would prevent failures and future expense. In 2017, I made a proposal to the Scott County board to hire a radio coordinator to handle this work internally. Reducing the service contracts would nearly offset the cost of the new position. This position was approved and we were able to hire an experienced candidate in August 2018.

Planned improvements for the radio system include using the county’s fiber network to connect to our radio towers to reduce chances of failure, working on a countywide radio replacement plan that will allow us to encrypt certain law enforcement channels that transmit private data or broadcast prisoner movement inside the jail. Based on feedback from local municipalities, we are researching how to automate our fire paging in an effort to reduce response times and improve public safety.

Feedback from our city partners will drive the services and features we prioritize in the coming years.

What do you promise to accomplish during your term, if elected?

I promise to listen to my constituents and employees.

As sheriff, I encourage my staff to bring forward new ideas so we can create workable solutions. I ask that new efforts meet the following criteria: improve public safety, and minimize costs. Working together we currently have plans office-wide and within each of our divisions.

Office-wide, I am committed to increasing diversity among our staff and training all staff in CIT.

Within the jail, I promise to lead the upgrade of video visitation to improve public safety.

Within the patrol division, a drug detection dog would benefit both those in our townships and local cities. I promise to certify our new K9 Floyd on drug detection this fall. I also promise to implement body cameras in the next two years. This is timely and aligns with the replacement schedule of the squad video camera system.

Within our 911 dispatch center, I promise to research and implement technology to automate fire paging.

Another promise relates to public warnings. I promise to install Mesonet Weather Stations to increase public warnings when severe weather develops within Scott County.

Finally, I promise to continue the collaborative efforts that are working to improve public safety. From our community engagement deputy who is building trust and relationships to our participation at township meetings. I am proud to have been part of a positive, engaging Sheriff’s Office for the last 21 years. I am proud of the work my team has done in the last two years, and I look forward to continuing my service to the people of Scott County.

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