Q&A with the candidates for Freeborn County sheriff

Published 7:56 am Saturday, October 29, 2022

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Ryan Shea

Q: What do you think are your greatest assets to bring to the Freeborn County sheriff position? What sets you apart?

Ryan Shea

The greatest assets that I bring to the Freeborn County sheriff position are my character, my training and my experience. I am an honest and trustworthy person with a strong desire to serve those around me. I am a dependable person who is always willing to put the work in to getting the job done right. I have worked hard for four different sheriffs over my career with Freeborn County, and all four of them saw qualities worthy of leadership in me. They showed that by hiring me to work as a deputy, asking me to train my peers, promoting me to supervise other employees, integrating me into the hiring process of the Sheriff’s Office, asking me to conduct internal affairs investigations and having me lead our investigations for the Sheriff’s Office. My co-workers have witnessed the same characteristics and have displayed that by voting me in as a union steward, seeking my advice and direction on cases, and asking my advice in their personal affairs. 

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What sets me apart is my experience working for the Sheriff’s Office and my wide array of training. Working for the Sheriff’s Office has provided me insight into all aspects of the Sheriff’s Office. With multiple departments inside the Sheriff’s Office, there is more than just the patrol to supervise. On a daily basis I have employees from other divisions of the Sheriff’s Office seeking me out for answers to their questions. When the federal government conducts the inspections of our detention facility, they regularly stop by my office to conduct an interview with me related to their inspection. I have leadership, supervision and management training from the MN Sheriff’s Association and the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. I also have extensive training in investigations and other law enforcement areas. 


Q: What are some things you think the Sheriff’s Office does well at and should continue?

The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office provides quality training for employees. Over the course of my career, greater training in a variety of ways has become more and more important in the law enforcement industry. The Sheriff’s Office has met those demands by continuing to expand the training that is provided to the employees. When employees seek out training that is valuable to the Sheriff’s Office and to the citizens of Freeborn County, I have not seen those training requests turned down. The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office also has provided quality equipment for their employees to utilize. 

As the next sheriff of Freeborn County, I will continue with providing quality training and equipment for the employees so that we can best serve the citizens of Freeborn County. I will look at ways to maximize that training to effect the whole Sheriff’s Office in a positive way. I will utilize training as a way to promote team building and healthy working relationship among the Sheriff’s Office. 


Q: What are some things you think the Sheriff’s Office needs to improve on or change?

The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office could change some of the ways in which we train locally. I would like for the Sheriff’s Office to conduct training with our local fire departments throughout the county. If we conduct multidisciplinary training with other first responder agencies, we could provide better and more efficient services to the citizens of Freeborn County and those who pass through our county on our highway systems. It would also foster better relationships with the members of those departments, while building trust with those communities.

Another thing I will do as sheriff is to look for more ways to acknowledge achievements of the employees of the Sheriff’s Office. We have a fantastic group of employees all throughout the Sheriff’s Office. There are many things that our employees do well, and I want to recognize them. When an employee is worthy of a service medal, I want to make sure they receive it. Many times, law enforcement can be what feels like a thankless job, especially in the past few years. I know our local citizens back law enforcement, and I want to make sure the employees get the recognition they deserve and make sure the citizens know they have the best Sheriff’s Office in the state. 


Q: What are the top issues facing law enforcement as a whole, and what can you do to improve that locally?

The top issues facing law enforcement are public perception of the agency, drug use and mental health issues.

I understand that good relationships with the citizens are a must. As sheriff, I will work with communities to build better relationships with the Sheriff’s Office. I will seek out opportunities for the Sheriff’s Office to interact with community members at local events and through previously mentioned training. I will work with our schools to have regular interaction between the Sheriff’s Office and the youth. I will provide a greater social media presence for the Sheriff’s Office to keep the county informed and up to date.  

Law enforcement response to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis have been in great scrutiny in recent years. People experiencing a mental health crisis can exhibit similar behaviors with those who may be under the influence of illegal drugs or even those involved in other criminal activity. When law enforcement is called to intervene, they need to utilize great understanding of human behavior to discern what they are dealing with. Our training has increased dramatically over the last decade in this area, and we will continue to provide our deputies with the best training we can. We have employees who are equipped to handle these situations well, and we will strive to build on our skills.


Q: What are some things you would like to accomplish by the end of your term (if elected)?

If elected as the next Freeborn County sheriff, I will get the Sheriff’s Office back to full staff, I will work to build a stronger team of employees, I will provide a greater visible presence in the public and I will partner with our communities to identify their local needs. 

I look to recruit quality employees who will strive to provide the best service to our county and will find their career in Freeborn County rewarding. I will invest in the employees to grow their strengths for the benefit of the citizens and the employee.

I have always been involved in the community around me. I have served on several boards over the years, been involved in coaching youth sports, active in my local church and attend many local events. I try to give back to my community and feel that I have been blessed to call Freeborn County my home for the last 22 years. Under my direction, the Sheriff’s Office will be more visible at local events in the communities across the county. The citizens can expect to find us approachable and available. I desire to have the communities want us at their events and for the deputies to enjoy being at the events and interacting with the public. 

I know that some of our communities have partnered with the Albert Lea Police Department for the enforcement of their local ordinances and some misdemeanor offenses. I will take a look at the agreements and see if a partnership with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office would make more sense for both the community and the Sheriff’s Office. I see a partnership with the Sheriff’s Office and the smaller communities as a better fit for all involved.


Q: The Sheriff’s Office in recent months has struggled with staffing. What do you think needs to be done to bring the department back up to being fully staffed so that the department can offer 24-hour service?

Law enforcement staffing is a national issue, not just a local one. In the last year, the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office has had five patrol deputies leave. Two of them retired after careers that spanned about 30 years, one left to work for the Minnesota State Patrol (a longtime goal), one left the law enforcement profession entirely and the other left to work at a police department. A new patrol deputy just began employment Oct. 17, another will start Nov. 2, and a third is projected to start before Thanksgiving. Once those deputies are trained in, the Sheriff’s Office should be able to move back to 24-hour coverage.

Finding quality candidates can be difficult in today’s culture. The amount of people interested in a law enforcement career has dropped significantly. Additionally, we have seen a large exodus of law enforcement professionals from the field. I will recruit quality candidates at their schools. I have ideas to utilize promotional videos, social media and job fairs to find deputies who are the right fit for our agency. I will work with the new county administrator and the county commissioners to provide an attractive wage and benefit package for new hires. Other agencies are offering hiring bonuses and front loading time off. Freeborn County should not exclude those ideas in light of current trends. 

I will also work to provide current staff with a strong sense of belonging and ownership in their roles within the Sheriff’s Office to promote continued employment and retention of those employees. I will work on team building and trust. I have ideas to implement into our training that will do just that. I have strong relationships with our current staff, and I will build on those relationships. 


Q: How can you unify your department’s employees?

Whenever there is a contested race for sheriff, there is the potential to have lines drawn. Employees can find themselves on different sides, and there is always the chance for animosity if the candidate they were backing loses.  I have already been proactive in trying to prevent division. I have maintained a good relationship with Jeff Strom throughout the sheriff’s race and have asked those supporting me to do the same.

I will continue my work in unifying the Sheriff’s Office through a number of ways. I would like to meet individually with each employee to understand their career goals, and if possible, help them create a pathway to those goals. I will work to invest in each employee. I will do what I can to utilize employees’ strengths for their benefit and the benefit of the county. I believe each person has a role they are good at, and I want to help them find it, so that they can find their career rewarding. I want them to have a sense of purpose and belonging within our agency.

I want to utilize local training for team building. I want those who attend training to come back and teach their peers what they have learned so that our training dollars can stretch further, more staff can have greater knowledge, employees can have a chance to share with each other and more people can buy in to a better agency. 

As sheriff, I will make sure there are clear expectations and understanding.  I find that when expectations do not match up, it will create confusion, misunderstanding and even distrust. 


Q: The area has seen an increase in overdose deaths in recent months, including some high school age youth. What can law enforcement do to reduce this issue?

Drug use continues to be an issue all across the country, and we are not immune. We have seen an increase in overdoses with some of them resulting in death. Fentanyl is the number one factor in the overdose increase, and law enforcement needs to focus more investigations into the sale of illegal drugs. Once the Sheriff’s Office gets closer to full staff, we will get a deputy back on the drug task force. Historically, the drug task force has been housed in Owatonna. Having that moved to Albert Lea with a focus of their investigations placed in Freeborn County will help combat the sale of illegal drugs in our communities.

We also need to work on the education piece. Law enforcement has not been a part of drug use/abuse education for a long time. It is time we changed that. I want the Sheriff’s Office to get back to educating the public, specifically our youth, about the dangers of drug use. My vision includes a structured program in our grade schools as well as guest speakers and programs at our high schools. 

The Sheriff’s Office carries naloxone, a drug that can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. Law enforcement has saved many lives with the use of naloxone. Recently, similar drugs have become available from nonprofits in our communities.

As a law enforcement official for over 24 years, I know that people abuse substances because they are self-medicating. There are underlying issues that need to be dealt with, as well as the substance abuse. As a community, we need to make sure there are programs available for the mental health needs of our community.


Q: How do you plan to reach out to the community if elected sheriff for awareness, etc.

We live in a time where we have the world at our fingertips. Unfortunately, that can also create an environment where we are less connected than ever.  As sheriff, I will utilize social media platforms to keep the public informed, educated and aware of hot topics, growing trends and other important information. I will utilize other forms of news media though, too, such as the local newspaper, radio and TV stations. 

I prefer face-to-face contact with people, so I will be available out in the public, too. One of the things I do currently is stopping in to businesses, schools, churches and other organizations to provide awareness when predatory offenders move in to an area. 


Q: Anything else you wish to mention?

I began my law enforcement career shortly after graduating college in 1998.  My first job was for the city of Parkers Prairie but, I knew I wanted to work for a rural MN sheriff’s office. I had the foresight to know I would enjoy a career as a deputy because of the wide variety in calls and daily work, as well as the interaction with the people around me. 

I started with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office in 2000 and very quickly knew this was going to be my home. I have worked my way up the ranks of the Sheriff’s Office, learning as I went. I became a sergeant in 2011 and then the lead detective at the end of 2014. 

Recently, I participated in a meeting with a consortium of law enforcement officials in southern MN to talk about forming a technology task force. As technology grows, law enforcement must adapt and change to meet the needs of the community it serves. Individually, local agencies cannot meet this need on their own. This is a rapidly growing area, and I am helping prepare Freeborn County to meet those needs in the future.

I have the experience, the knowledge and the training that sets me apart from anyone else. I am ready to be the next Freeborn County sheriff. 


Jeff Strom

Q: What do you think are your greatest assets to bring to the Freeborn County sheriff position? What sets you apart?

Jeff Strom

During this campaign, I have worked to make my professional attributes and qualifications brought to the forefront of this election as I believe I have the qualities needed to be a successful sheriff.

My greatest assets are my knowledge, energy and willingness to work with others. I have 35 years of working in law enforcement and the Freeborn County community. Over this time, I have developed numerous contacts and built strong relationships. People know they can depend on me and trust me. My knowledge as a supervisor comes from 26 years of being a police lieutenant. During this time I have supervised a variety of people and have been confronted with many different situations. I have attended numerous training sessions to build my supervisory skills. I am always available to mentor those that I work with whether it be an officer, deputy or others in the law enforcement field.

I collaborate with people, agencies and organizations to promote the common goal.

I have proven that I can build a team that works together to create a place where people want to come to work.

I believe what sets me apart from the other candidate is my consistent history of supervising others in my current position. Having worked with and for a variety of leaders in my career, I have been able to select the best qualities of these leaders and create my own leadership style. I have a servant type leadership style; I am here to help lead and guide those around me and assist where I am needed. I have a tireless energy, and I strive to work with other organizations to further my commitment to the community. 

If elected, I will continue to bring that knowledge, leadership, consistency and commitment to the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office. 


Q: What are some things you think the Sheriff’s Office does well at and should continue?

The Sheriff’s Office has many great employees, and each brings their own particular set of skills to the organization. To support them in their growth, they need to receive proper training and recognition of their efforts to enhance their skills and to retain quality employees.

Our Emergency Management Director Rich Hall is known statewide for his emergency management skills and knowledge.

The Sheriff’s Office provides a great Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP)-Dispatch, Records Bureau, Detention Center and Civil Process.

I have the privilege of working with this entire team daily, and it would be a privilege to lead all of the current staff that make up the Freeborn County Sheriff’s office.


Q: What are some things you think the Sheriff’s Office needs to improve on or change?

While campaigning for office, I have heard many people comment on the lack of visibility of the deputies. Staffing shortages create problems and stretch manpower thin. Residents want and need to see their deputies patrolling and interacting with the public.  Local leadership has questions that pertain to law enforcement, but currently lack the accessibility to administration or a deputy. The Sheriff’s Office needs to be proactive and attend local government meetings to answer questions and get a pulse on what is happening around the county.

Leadership needs to listen to the concerns of the public and take these concerns to heart and find ways to address them. Working with the rural communities and collaborating with them enhances all of Freeborn County. Having a broad knowledge base facilitates change and growth. By bringing various community leaders together and being the catalyst, will make for a safer and healthier Freeborn County.

Increased interaction with the road deputies in positive contacts (presentations, community events, local meetings) will allow residents to feel comfortable reaching out to deputies for questions. Positive contact with the public will also build morale among the staff and show them that their community appreciates the work they do.

Increasing training and recognition of all employees is a priority if elected as the better trained employees are, the greater the job satisfaction. An investment in training is an investment in the employee’s future. There are times law enforcement can be a thankless job; recognizing employees’ contributions and a simple “thank you” can go a long way.


Q: What are the top issues facing law enforcement as a whole, and what can you do to improve that locally?

In my opinion, a top issue facing law enforcement is hiring and retention.

Law enforcement and corrections are not alone in the struggle to attract qualified candidates to the positions. 

A general shift in the area of employment has occurred unilaterally across the board. Compound this with the “Defund the Police” movement, and people have an aversion to going into a career in law enforcement.

Rural areas usually have lower starting rates of pay as compared with metro agencies and this adds to a shortage of applicants to the pool. Some agencies are also offering substantial hiring bonuses to new employees.

The solution to this is to actively recruit and encourage people to pursue a career in law enforcement while advertising that our community strongly supports its law enforcement. When recruiting, present the community support and quality of life of living in a rural area. Let the recruits know that the current administration is attuned to their needs and will work to promote and train for a fulfilling career.


Q: What are some things you would like to accomplish by the end of your term (if elected)?

I would like to have a fully staffed, professional office that consistently collaborates with and is committed to other organizations within Freeborn County. I will continue to build public trust in the organization and work to eliminate the “Us versus Them” mentality that has historically been a barrier to collaboration.

Community members would be able to recognize all the deputies of Freeborn County and would feel comfortable reaching out to them with questions and concerns.

Small city governments would have a consistent representative at their meetings to voice concerns and receive advice on law enforcement issues. I would collaborate with these cities to offer code/ordinance enforcement.

Deputies would be visible within the community giving crime prevention and safety presentations. It would not be uncommon to see a deputy at local community events.

A goal is to have employees feel that they are appreciated and supported, and that their best interests are being taken into account, and all are treated fairly and with respect.

I would want the Sheriff’s Office to be the organization that other agencies strive to be. 


Q: The Sheriff’s Office in recent months has struggled with staffing. What do you think needs to be done to bring the department back up to being fully staffed so that the department can offer 24-hour service?

Employees in today’s world are not the same as employees of 20-30 years ago. Employees are looking for job satisfaction and quality of life.

When I applied 35 years ago, there were over a hundred applicants for an open position, whereas currently in one of the Albert Lea Police Department’s (ALPD) most recent hiring processes, there were less than 20 applicants for several positions. The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office went through several hiring attempts without success, and the jail struggles to retain detention deputies. A possible solution to this would be to offer flexible scheduling and part-time employment for jail staff. A six-hour shift may entice someone going to school full-time, has child care issues or only wants part-time employment. I have spoken with the county human resources director about possible part-time employment and retention bonuses for departing employees.

As previously mentioned, active recruiting at colleges and other venues to promote Freeborn County’s quality of life and the bonuses of working in a small community. I have consistently reached out to our local law enforcement program to promote Albert Lea and Freeborn County as well as recently spoken with our local Veteran’s Service Officer to recruit from recently discharged service members.

My work history with the Albert Lea Police Department has shown that if needed, I will staff the squad car, patrol the roads or work dispatch to ensure that we have full coverage. 


Q: How can you unify your department’s employees?

Treating each employee with respect and dignity will make enormous strides in unification. Acknowledging the employees’ work and their efforts will increase job satisfaction. I want to create impartiality, fairness and accountability where all employees are held to the same standards.

It is amazing how far a simple “thank you” or “nice job” will go to boost morale. We all want to be recognized for our contributions to the organization we work for. The last several years I have worked to build inclusiveness and camaraderie among the ALPD and FCSO. I have scheduled off-duty movie nights at a local theater, organized a bowling afternoon with an open invitation to all those not on-duty. I also initiated baseball trading cards to hand out to children for officers and deputies who were interested in having them. Small, everyday actions can boost morale and lead to greater job satisfaction and unity among the members of a department.


Q: The area has seen an increase in overdose deaths in recent months, including some high school age youth. What can law enforcement do to reduce this issue?

Law enforcement alone will not successfully impact drug usage. Over my career I have been active in enforcement of our drug laws. I have seen success with individuals that have bettered their lives, and I am proud of them for this accomplishment. To make a lasting change, it will take the effort of many individuals and organizations coming together. Freeborn County Partners in Prevention (FC-PIP) is a good start. I plan on having the Sheriff’s Office be an active member of this organization. To my knowledge the Sheriff’s Office has had little representation in this collaborative. Public awareness and getting parents educated will increase the ability to recognize warning signs and take early intervention. The DARE program was implemented in the 1990s-2000s; however, studies have shown that this program did not have a lasting effect. Programs that have worked the best have been programs that were family-based. 

Officers, deputies and some local firefighters carry Narcan to reduce the effects of opioid overdoses and hopefully save a life. Organizations have also been distributing Narcan to individual drug users and family members in an effort to reverse the opioid effects quicker. Unfortunately, individuals often use it alone or in secret. When this occurs, there is no one to administer Narcan.  


Q: How do you plan to reach out to the community if elected sheriff for awareness, etc.

An action I have already taken during the campaign process has been attending various city council meetings around Freeborn County to meet more members of the smaller communities. These citizens and taxpayers have many of the same challenges and are starving for interaction with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office. My current director attends the city of Albert Lea council meetings, where he is the liaison between public safety and the council members who represent the city and have the power to make change. It is important for him to give and receive feedback, which I have witnessed numerous times at the meetings I have attended. Communities within Freeborn County have law enforcement or public safety questions where they need guidance and direction. I or a designee will be attending these meetings to receive feedback and give guidance on public safety issues. 

I will be holding informational meetings within the community on topics such as scams, drug usage and general crime prevention. During my time with the Albert Lea Police Department I have led numerous community outreach programs. I have facilitated the Citizen’s Academy, Coffee with a Cop, Safety Fairs and numerous other community events. I have had several meetings with the Karen community and facilitated a Spanish speaking Citizens Academy. The Citizen Academy is a nine-week informational training program that builds the public’s knowledge base on what police officers do and why they do the things they do. This leads to increased trust and understanding in the community. I will have deputies visible within the communities of Freeborn County. I will explore ways to have greater deputy interaction among the students of Freeborn County. I will build strong collaborations with the existing organizations that serve the people.


Q: Anything else you wish to mention?

It has been implied that I do not support the Second Amendment. I want to make it clear that I support the Second Amendment and a citizen’s right to bear arms. I support the United States Constitution and the rights and protections that it conveys. Law-abiding gun owners should not be penalized for the irresponsible actions of others.

The elected position of sheriff is nonpartisan. I will never endorse a candidate from any political party. Crime and public safety knows no boundaries. 

The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and Albert Lea Police Department are both law enforcement agencies governed by similar policies and tasked with enforcing the same laws. The Sheriff’s Office is more than a larger demographic area. It is also community involvement, collaborations with other agencies, mentoring others and fair and respectful treatment of all. Law enforcement and the Sheriff’s Office is about the people in our community. If elected sheriff of Freeborn County, I will diligently work to protect and serve all residents of Freeborn County to the best of my ability.

I would be honored to lead the fine women and men of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and work for all citizens of Freeborn County.