Hennepin County voters will be picking a new Hennepin County Sheriff this year. A few weeks ago, we asked our readers what they wanted to know about the candidates for the office. We sent a few of their questions to each of the campaigns and listed their answers below in the order in which we received them.

The primary election takes place on August 9th, and you can vote early between now and then. Here's some information on how to register to vote, check your registration status, or find your polling place.

Dawanna Witt

Candidate website: wittforsheriff.com

Dawanna Witt

Key endorsements (100 words or fewer)

DFL Party, DFL Veterans' Caucus, Stonewall DFL, DFL Senior Caucus, AFSCME Council 5, Minneapolis Buildings and Construction Trades Council, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie, Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan (retired), Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows (retired), Wayzata, Police Chief Mike Risvold (retired), Rep. Dean Phillips, Commissioner Jeff Lunde, Commissioner Debbie Goettel, Commissioner Kevin Anderson, Mayor Ron Case, Eden Prairie, Mayor James Hovland, Edina, Mayor Lisa Jacobson, Brooklyn Park, Mayor Jake Spano, St. Louis Park, Rep. Sandra Feist, Rep. Hodan Hassan, Rep. Kristin Bahner, Minneapolis Council President Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis Councilmember LaTrisha Vetaw, Minneapolis Councilmember Jamal Osman, Sam and Sylvia Kaplan

How do you plan to use your office to make the community safer? (200 words or fewer)

Violent crime is the most pressing public safety issue in the county, committed by adults and juveniles alike. We need intervention, prevention, and accountability. As Sheriff, I will work collaboratively with all public safety partners to not only react to this crime surge, but to develop new programs to keep young people from offending in the first place. For example, we currently have a program in the jail that’s helping inmates finish classes towards their G.E.D., learn vocational skills, life skills, and more. As Sheriff, I will expand this program. This isn’t about “rewarding” inmates, it’s about putting them on a better path. Most crimes in Hennepin County are committed by repeat offenders. Reducing recidivism reduces crime, period. 

There’s a lot that we can do at the Sheriff’s Office, but no one can take on this problem alone. I will work to build bridges between everyone: law enforcement, the criminal justice system as a whole, our community partners (residents, business owners, etc.) and our stakeholders in the mental and behavioral health fields. We need leaders that can bring everyone to the table together.

What will you do to help restore or build trust in the office of Sheriff after Sheriff Hutchinson's departure? (200 words or fewer)

I can bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community because I am from the community. As a kid growing up in South Minneapolis, I didn’t see myself as someone who would wind up in law enforcement. I grew up around crime. I grew up around drugs and alcohol. I was a teen mom. I didn’t trust the police. But here I am. This is my calling. I can be that bridge between law enforcement and the communities most affected by both violent crime and police misconduct. 

Of course, my background isn’t enough to heal that divide. I will ask the community to judge me by my actions. I pledge to be a Sheriff dedicated to accountability, reform, and collaboration. That’s what’s needed now. We need people who can help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve so we can work collaboratively to solve the issues we’re now facing. With 22 years of experience in law enforcement, and a proven track record of developing innovative programs that work, I know that I am up to this task.

What will your office do to help address the issue of gun violence? (200 words or fewer) 

I am currently a Major at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. One initiative that we have already started is called “Safer Hennepin.” This initiative involves collaborating with other law enforcement agencies but is primarily led by the Sheriff’s Office. This group goes to high-crime areas and proactively works to identify and apprehend people that are bringing mayhem to our communities. Some of the deputies are uniformed and some are undercover.  We see that this works. Being proactive prevents crimes. 

As the next Sheriff, I will continue this effort and others like it. I will work hard to recruit more men and women to our agency to assist in these efforts. I will work with other criminal justice partners and be that voice of common sense. We need to be proactive, we need accountability and we need to uphold the law in effort to keep people safe.

What is one specific policy change that you depart from the current Sheriff’s office on? (200 words or fewer)

I will implement a policy that calls for better transparency from the Sheriff’s Office. I am astounded by the number of people that ask about what we're doing to combat the current crime wave. I also field questions about who we have in our jail.  

As Sheriff, I will create a system for people to see the day-to-day activities we are involved in. In addition, I will create a public dashboard that shows the statistics of who is held in the Hennepin County jail on a daily basis. I believe transparency is one path towards trust, and I also believe that informed conversations about public safety begin with accurate data and information. These tools will make that information available to everyone. 

I will also create a strong Community Advisory Board (CAB), which I will participate in. The Sheriff needs to be accessible to the community he or she has sworn to protect. By ensuring that we have regular communication with people who are active in their communities we not only build trust and accountability but we will also learn from each other and can work together towards our common goal of a better, safer Hennepin County for all people. 

What will be your stance regarding cooperation with ICE when it seeks to detain and take into federal custody immigrants who are in the county jail? (200 words or fewer)

I currently oversee the two largest divisions in the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, Adult Detention and Court Services. As part of the current administration, I helped develop the current policy towards ICE, which is that we will turn someone over to that agency ONLY if they have a signed federal warrant. As your next Sheriff, I will continue to uphold this policy.

My top priority is the safety of all residents of Hennepin County. I want all residents, regardless of their immigration status, to feel comfortable contacting and cooperating with law enforcement if they are the victim of or witness to a crime. Under my leadership, Hennepin County will be a place where all residents can feel safe to live, work, worship, and thrive regardless of their background. 

What do you think about moving towards a unified county police force run by the sheriff, instead of the current hodgepodge of 40+ different municipal, transit, park and university forces currently serving the county? (200 words or fewer)

I would not support the Sheriff’s Office replacing all local law enforcement agencies in Hennepin County. The Sheriff’s Office can already operate anywhere in the County and provide mutual aid with local agencies as needed. This agency has facilities in downtown Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, and Spring Park. We also provide primary patrol services to cities like Greenfield, Hanover, Medicine Lake, and Rockford. Assuming command of all law enforcement in the county would require a massive increase in staffing, facilities, and equipment. Having effective local law enforcement is a critical element of rebuilding trust between those agencies and the communities they serve. 

While I would not support unifying all law enforcement under one agency, I do endorse greater cooperation between agencies. The Sheriff’s Office can operate anywhere in the County and provide mutual aid with local agencies as needed. We are currently conducting frequent joint operations with local, state, and federal partners. That will expand further when I am Sheriff. Tackling crime anywhere in Hennepin County benefits everyone in the county, no matter where they live. No one thrives in a community in which people are afraid.

Jai Hanson

Jai Hanson

Candidate website: jai4sheriff.com

Key endorsements (100 words or fewer)

I am proud to have endorsements by community activists, elected officials and Public Safety leaders, however, the endorsement I strive for is that of you, the reader. I am running as an independent candidate for sheriff in hopes to put people first and not a political agenda. Public safety needs to be a non-partisan issue and therefore, having your support is key to our success. I would be honored to have your endorsement in the form of a vote in the August 9 primary.

How do you plan to use your office to make the community safer? (200 words or fewer)

The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of our county. If elected, I would use my office to be more of a vocal leader when it comes to reform, collaborating on both the county and state level to ensure the citizens of Hennepin County receive the funding and resources needed to curb the most violent crime wave in the history of not only our county, but our state. I would partner with the municipal law enforcement agencies to ensure their chiefs are being heard and they have the support with technology, staff and funding that the sheriff’s office can provide on a county level to assist. I will also be opening a satellite office in North Minneapolis where the HCSO can assist Minneapolis Police and where I would office out of. North Minneapolis has been abandoned by elected leaders and law enforcement equally for decades and its time to get northsiders the help they deserve. Making North Minneapolis safer, makes our whole county safer. 

What will you do to help restore or build trust in the office of Sheriff after Sheriff Hutchinson's departure? (200 words or fewer)

My vision for the HCSO would be to invest in community outreach. (COP HOUSES/EXPLORER PROGRAM/CADET PROGRAM/CITIZEN’S ACADEMY).

I have explained several of those programs on my website and highlighted the value that they provide to our county. Also, we need to be honest about what we have received with our current Sheriff’s Administration. The lack of transparency that has happened under the current administration has put all of us in law enforcement in a difficult position. Whether it is the sheriff’s recklessness or another in-custody death at the Hennepin County Jail, there has been no transparency or honesty from this current administration. We simply cannot have four more years of this trend. What I offer is an outsider with 17yrs of law enforcement leadership. I have the most front-line experience and have taken the most 911 calls for service out of any candidates in this race. To build trust we need to be honest with our citizens, good or bad, be honest. The days of “no comment” need to be in our past. I will have those tough conversations and continue the dialogue to ensure the community understands the HCSO vision and HCSO understands the community’s vision. 

What will your office do to help address the issue of gun violence? (200 words or fewer)

The moment a legal gun is used in a crime it becomes an illegal gun. As sheriff, I will focus on getting illegal guns off our streets. We do this by ensuring we move licensed deputies out of jobs that non-licensed civilian employees can do and move the licensed deputies into front-line positions that will help on our streets. I would focus on targeted task forces that will focus on getting violent offenders and illegal guns out of our neighborhoods.  

What is one specific policy change that you depart from the current Sheriff’s office on? (200 words or fewer)

The current administration, which one of the other candidates is a member of, has had a soft-handed approach on holding criminals accountable. This is apparent by her openly and proudly accepting endorsements from defunding the police advocates. My stance is we need to have a both/and approach. We are losing officers to other professions at a record number, and we need to invest in our officers and making sure we have the right people signing up for this profession. Also, its time for an administration that is transparent in their policies and standards.   

What will be your stance regarding cooperation with ICE when it seeks to detain and take into federal custody immigrants who are in the county jail? (200 words or fewer)

I will work with all our federal partners, whether its ICE, ATF, FBI, or any other ones that provide resources. We are not in a position to turn down any assistance to help getting our crime down. As an immigrant myself, who came here with a passport from India, I am passionate about this stance and have put a very clear and more in-depth explanation regarding this stance on my website. A stance that would include working with immigration advocates and clearly explaining rights to inmates. 

What do you think about moving towards a unified county police force run by the sheriff, instead of the current hodgepodge of 40+ different municipal, transit, park and university forces currently serving the county? (200 words or fewer)

I think that needs to be considered, however, that is not feasible right now with the lack of officers we have and the retention and recruiting struggles within law enforcement. This is one of the biggest concerns in public safety that needs to be addressed. How do we get good people to want to be police officers? That starts with a sheriff that supports the good women and men that already wear the badge. We also acknowledge that no one dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop, and because of that, let’s make sure we are removing the officers that tarnish the badge. Being an independent, not aligned with a political party, allows me to take on these issues with a non-partisan approach to ensure public safety is provided regardless of where you call home. We do not ask you if you are a republican or a democrat when you call 911 and that is why it is so important to remove the political parties from your safety. 

Joseph Banks

Candidate website: banks4sheriff.com

The Joseph Banks campaign has not yet responded to our inquiries. We'll include his answers here if that happens.