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Former Cloquet police chief comes home to Duluth

Judge Shaun Floerke swears in Duluth Police Officer Steve Stracek on Thursday as Stracek’s wife Lisa and son Jon watch. Stracek previously worked 21 years for the department, finishing his tenure at the lieutenant rank as commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, before leaving to become Cloquet police chief. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken examines Officer Steve Stracek’s badge before Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 3
Duluth Police Officer Steve Stracek smiles as his wife Lisa pins on his badge during Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 3

Steve Stracek said farewell to his coworkers in the training room of the Duluth Public Safety Building on a summer day in 2014.

After spending 21 years working his way up the ranks of the Duluth Police Department, Stracek was excited to transition into his new role as Cloquet's police chief.

Nearly five tumultuous years later, Stracek found himself back in the same room Thursday, surrounded by many of the same colleagues. This time, he was taking the oath as the newest officer on the Duluth force.

"These are people I know well and have a lot of respect for," he said. "I'm really excited to be back here and to get back to work. It's something I realized I really wanted to do."

Stracek's tenure in Cloquet was cut short amid political and union strife. While he was exonerated of all allegations levied against him in a March 2017 complaint, Stracek agreed to resign under the terms of a voluntary separation agreement three months later.

When Stracek left the Duluth Police Department, he was a lieutenant with one of the most important, and visible, jobs in the department: commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

Now, he'll join a patrol shift as a rank-and-file officer in training.

Stracek acknowledged his career has not taken the path he envisioned in recent years. But he said he has maintained a positive outlook.

"It wasn't part of the plan originally, but I believe that God's at work all the time and there was always a plan," he said. "It just seemed like this was the next step for me and my family."

Police Chief Mike Tusken, who started in Duluth just a year before Stracek, was more than happy to welcome back his longtime colleague.

"Steve had an exemplary career here in Duluth," he said. "We know he will do excellent job for our organization and community."

Duluth Police Department investigator Mike Gilbert hugs officer Steve Stracek. Photo by Steve Kuchera / News TribuneTusken and a handful of other longtime officers joined Stracek as he re-took the oath from 6th Judicial District Judge Shaun Floerke. The festivities were low-key, lasting all of five minutes, as Stracek asked to dispense with the fanfare that normally accompanies such ceremonies.

Stracek is the first officer to be hired under a new "lateral" hiring process, which Tusken instituted with City Council approval last fall.

The policy allows the department to review and hire experienced applicants at any time of the year, outside normal recruiting and hiring periods. Officers meeting the department's criteria can be hired with expedited training and placed on the streets much quicker, Tusken said.

"We've had significant challenges in law enforcement, not just in our city but certainly across the nation, of finding and retaining good candidates," he said. "So, this lateral process was an opportunity for us to cast a net out to folks who were already police officers who maybe always wanted to be in our city."

Tusken said he never imagined Stracek would be the first officer hired. He said the department identified three finalists from an initial wave of eight applicants. One pulled out for personal reasons; the other is still going through licensing and background checks.

"With Steve, we have no reservations whatsoever about his character and his care and concern and compassion for humanity," Tusken said. "We know he's going to be a real proud addition to our organization."

Stracek rejoins Duluth from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Police Department, where he has been working for the past eight months as a part-time officer.

The work is very different than an urban environment like Duluth, he said, and it has required him to spend more time away from his family.

"When the opportunity came up I thought a lot about it, and it just seemed like timing-wise this was the thing I had to try to do," he said. "So I went through the process, and it worked out, and I feel good about it."