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2022 Carlton County Sheriff race: Lake, Syrett face off

Moose Lake police officer Jason Syrett is seeking to unseat Sheriff Kelly Lake, who is running for reelection.

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CARLTON — Incumbent Kelly Lake is seeking another term as Carlton County Sheriff and is facing a challenge Nov. 8 from Jason Syrett, a 10-year veteran of the Moose Lake Police Department.

Here are the candidates' responses to a Cloquet Pine Journal questionnaire. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order. Their responses have been edited for style and grammar.

Kelly Lake

Age: 53 

Family: Married with four children ranging in age from 24 to 13.

Occupation: Carlton County Sheriff.

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Community Service: Volunteer for children’s school and extracurricular activities throughout the years; involved in MN TRIAD and Carlton County TRIAD (seniors/law enforcement/community working together to enhance senior safety).

Experience in law enforcement:

In my 33 years employed at the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, I have been a corrections officer, patrol deputy, patrol sergeant and spent the past 17 years serving as your Carlton County Sheriff.

Over those years, I have built relationships with surrounding local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies where we have come together multiple times to plan public safety responses for small to very large multi-jurisdictional events.

Why are you running for office? 

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake
Contributed / Kelly Lake

I am running for reelection for Carlton County Sheriff to continue serving the citizens of Carlton County with integrity and dedication. I was born and raised in Carlton County, am married to my husband Rick. We have four children ages 24, 22, 15 and 13, and reside in rural Barnum where we raise beef cattle and have horses.

I have spent my entire career of 33 years with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, with the past 17 serving as your sheriff. The Office of Sheriff has many responsibilities, to include patrol and investigations, 9-1-1 communications dispatch center, jail, court security, civil process and emergency management. I have demonstrated the ability to effectively manage these responsibilities, including ensuring that our staff receive the proper equipment, training and resources to serve the people of Carlton County.

I have led the sheriff’s office through many challenging situations and have the experience to continue to lead through the many upcoming challenges as well.

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I have dedicated my entire career to serving the citizens of Carlton County. I am thankful to the citizens that have put their trust in me. I would be honored to continue serving as your sheriff for the next four years.

What are the big challenges you see facing the sheriff's office?

Law Enforcement is receiving an increase in calls related to people with mental health needs. Having the resources to appropriately address the mental health needs is a challenge. Appropriate resources are scarce locally, regionally and statewide. We find ourselves sometimes transporting people on court-ordered commitments to Fargo, North Dakota. Many times, there are no beds available or a long wait for open beds in mental health facilities where someone could benefit from treatment. For immediate crisis response, having the resources to direct people to and being able to spend the needed extra time on these calls for service are challenging with limited staffing and the deputies need to continue to respond to other emergency calls for service.

We are also seeing a lot of issues related to illegal drugs. These issues can be drug trafficking and sales, but also crimes related to drugs such as thefts, burglaries and assaults, as well as the medical side of increased drug overdose calls.

Another issue facing law enforcement across the state and nation is in the area of staff recruitment and retention. There have been declines in the number of applicants wanting to begin careers in law enforcement. Carlton County is not immune from that. We will see retirements coming up internally in the patrol and jail divisions within the next two to five years, so recruiting, hiring, training and then retaining qualified people to fill these positions will be a top priority.

If elected, how would you work to address those issues?

I was part of a collaborative group that included Carlton County Human Services and HDC. A grant was obtained to hire a social worker that is embedded with law enforcement agencies in the county. This program has allowed the social worker to be a co-responder with law enforcement to calls where we
encounter people with mental health needs. The social worker has been able to work with the person, as well as streamline connections to mental health resources when appropriate. This allows deputies to more quickly resolve the situation to respond to the next call.

In my time as sheriff, we implemented county-wide unwanted medication disposal drop boxes, reducing those redistributed to our communities.

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We recently replaced our retired K-9. This K-9 will be trained in narcotics detection and is a tremendous tool for the deputy to use to seek out illegal narcotics. The K-9/deputy team will also be made available to other law enforcement agencies to call upon for mutual aid requests.

We recently received a grant for a deputy to work focused enforcement of impaired drivers, which includes alcohol and drug impairment. Deputies also receive special training in drug interdiction, which focuses traffic enforcement on arrests of those possessing and trafficking drugs.

My office will continue to have a staff person assigned to and working the Carlton County Drug Court team, which assists those who want to end their addiction.

There have been declines in the number of applicants seeking careers in law enforcement across the country. We will see retirements in the patrol and jail divisions within the next two to five years, so recruiting, hiring, training and retaining qualified people to fill these positions will be crucial.

What success do you hope to build on, if elected?

In order to effectively serve Carlton County citizens, it takes agencies working together. I have spent my career building relationships with our local law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. I’ve had several opportunities to work with local, state and federal partners planning for effective public safety response to large scale matters such as organized crime in our community, as well as floods and civil unrest.

Within my office, we strive to maintain the same excellent relationships among our many divisions, such as dispatch, corrections, emergency management, records and patrol. In order to ensure each division is providing the best service to Carlton County citizens as possible, I encourage staff to seek training in current practices and procedures in their fields.

We have built a collaborative environment within the office that resulted in a work environment where new staff start their careers here and grow as professionals to eventually lead my office. Historically, Carlton County Sheriff’s Office staff often stay for their entire career. In doing so, this leads to strong community partnerships as a result of the trust and relationships built over the years.

In addition to training, I prioritize providing staff with the most current technology and equipment available to give each division the tools necessary to safely and effectively serve. That focus on creating efficiencies within the criminal justice system brought our justice partners, community members and elected officials to collaborate with state and national experts to review our current practices and seek better ways to provide services.

During that collaboration, we received notice from the Minnesota Department of Corrections that our current jail must close in July 2023. As result, the most cost-effective, efficient solution identified is a new justice center being built. This justice center will best serve the public safety needs of Carlton County for decades to come.

Jason Syrett

Age: 35

Family: Married with two children.

Occupation: Moose Lake Police Officer.

Community service involvement: No response listed.

Experience in law enforcement: Police officer with the Moose Lake Police Department for 10 years; four-year criminal justice degree at St Cloud State University, graduating in 2010 making the university’s dean’s list.

Why are you running for office?

Jason Syrett
Jason Syrett
Contributed / Jason Syrett

  • Carlton County needs a change. Sixteen years of the same leadership has negative effects on a department.
  • Against the new Carlton County Justice Center: The size and projected amenities for a jail are not necessary and are a tax burden on citizens.
  • County jail is declining arrests, not allowing officers to lodge individuals in jail who have committed crimes and/or violating order for protections.
  • Concerns Sheriff Kelly Lake is going to retire half-way through term, appoint the next sheriff and not let people vote.
  • Lack of leadership and accountability. Bring back the Carlton County Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.)

What are the big challenges you see facing the sheriff's office?

  • Revising or stopping the Carlton County Justice Center.
  • Lack of resources for mental health problems.
  • Lack of accountability in holding individuals responsible for the crimes they commit. Courts are giving petty “slap on the wrist” charges/sentences to repeat offenders. Jail “frequent flyers” are getting old — offenders know nothing is going to happen to them, so they keep committing crimes. Creates negative feelings for law enforcement.

If elected, how would you work to address those issues?

  • Work together with current members of the sheriff’s department; develop goals, solve problems and carry through with them — not just talk about them.
  • Put pressure on the county attorney’s office to prosecute and stop the declination letters.
  • Bring back and develop a high standard Community Emergency Response Team with county law enforcement agencies and not rely on outside agencies.

What successes do you hope to build on, if elected?

  • Uphold the Constitution of the United States.
  • Create different motivations, bring new ideas, develop a positive work environment.
  • Bring back the Carlton County Emergency Response Team.
  • Use common sense.
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