Sheriff reflects on first few months in office

Photo by Alicia Lebens
Sheriff Dan Starry waves to the crowd while riding in the Lumberjack Days Parade in Stillwater July 24.

Alicia Lebens
Stillwater Gazette

Serving the community and being a positive role model for children drew Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry into law enforcement. When former county sheriff Bill Hutton announced his retirement earlier this year, he tapped Starry — his chief deputy — to fill the remainder of Hutton’s term, which runs through 2018.

Starry’s appointment was approved by the county board, and he was sworn in as the 30th Washington County Sheriff May 1. He had a notable arrival in the Forest Lake area, as he entered office during the local controversy over whether or not Forest Lake would contract with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services or retain its police department. Ultimately, the city kept its current police force after Starry pulled the sheriff’s office’s law enforcement proposal from consideration, allowing the city and its officer unions to reach a deal.

In early August, Starry reached his first 100 days in office. In an interview Aug. 9, Starry reflected on the experience so far.

When did you start with the sheriff’s office?

“I have been with the sheriff’s office since 1993, so this is my 24th year with Washington County. This is my first law enforcement career. Before that, I worked in a glass factory loading glass.”

What are some of the roles you have held in the sheriff’s office?

“I think I have done just about everything. I started out as a patrol deputy in the Mahtomedi contract area. I was a crime prevention officer, a D.A.R.E. officer when I taught over in the Mahtomedi fifth grade and then at the middle school. I was a school resource officer. I was a K-9 officer with companion Smokey — he’s up in that urn over there, he still comes to work with me — but I have done just about everything: sergeant, commander, chief deputy and now sheriff. So I have done a lot.”

What has surprised you about being sheriff?

“As part of the job, I would say it is just humbling. The amount of people that come up to you and tell you how amazing the men and women are in this department. I know that, but as sheriff you really get to hear it, and spreading that back to the men and women in this agency because they truly are dedicated and doing all of the work day in or day out.”

What are some of your goals as sheriff?

“I am on the executive board for the North Central High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. There are five metro counties and on the [west] side of Wisconsin, and we are working to decrease the flow of drug trafficking organizations into this area. That is one thing that I am passionate about … there has to be another way to decrease the demand and decrease the flow of drugs into this area.

“The opioid epidemic that we hear about is also in Washington County. One of the things we have done is expand our ‘Take it to the Box’ program where we collect unwanted and unused prescription medication. We have had the program, but we just added a fourth box now in Woodbury. Since its inception, we have collected 35,000 pounds of opioid medication so that the temptation of theft or the abuse of those drugs goes away.”

What is something the public may not know about the sheriff’s office?

“I think the public sees our patrol cars out in the community — that’s our most visible face — but the sheriff’s office is constantly out in the community doing things, even here in Stillwater. The sheriff is responsible for the county jail. We have 228 beds, and today we have 202 filled. The average stay is about eight days, and these inmates are coming back into community. They are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers — they are a part of our community — so when they come out, we want them to be better than when they went in, with programming and partnerships with other county services, and with law enforcement agencies in the county. I think the county as a whole does a good job with partnerships and collaborations.

“Our investigations division is awesome. We have a lot of big, high-profile cases that the county attorney’s office prosecutes and the sheriff’s office investigates that include sex trafficking, drug cases and crimes that are occurring in the community. We started up a community forensics lab because technology within our society is on the increase and it’s those types things that criminals are using. That’s something we want to make sure we are on the forefront of.”

Will you be running for sheriff in the 2018 election?

“I am running in the next election.”

Where do you see the sheriff’s office in five to 10 years?

“We will have a new records management system and a new camera system in the jail, but I think that it is just staying on the forefront of all the things that are going on. Technology plays a big role in human trafficking, and we are working with county attorney’s office to stay ahead of it, but it’s hard because it is every changing.”

How will you use your leadership role to maintain or improve relationships between law enforcement and people of color in the county?

“It certainly starts with community, and something that I have said since I started is that we will be out in our community making those advancements with people of color and with everyone in our community. We have to be representative of our community and we have to make sure that we are there for our citizens as we go. I think we are certainly making strides and we are having meetings with diverse cultures that are within our county, and making ourselves available for those sometimes-hard conversations that need to be had.”

Anything else you would like to add?

“Being a Stillwater resident, it is very humbling to be able to serve here in Stillwater and the entire county.”