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Stracek retires from Duluth Police Department; Ceynowa named deputy chief

The former Cloquet police chief said he was happy to finish his career back home in Duluth. He'll hand over head of patrol duties to an officer who has worked in nearly every capacity in the department.

Two police officers.
Deputy Chief Steve Stracek, left, and Lt. Mike Ceynowa.
Contributed / Duluth Police Department

DULUTH — For Steve Stracek, the path to becoming deputy chief of police was anything but ordinary.

Stracek spent 21 years working his way up the ranks, eventually as a lieutenant overseeing the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force at the outset for the opioid crisis. Leaving in 2014 to become Cloquet police chief, he didn't expect to be back.

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Then-Duluth Police Lt. Steve Stracek holds an evidence bag containing heroin while talking about the growing problem of the drug in the region in 2014. Stracek served as commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

But his controversial departure after less than two years provided a new opportunity — starting over alongside rookie cops as a patrol officer in Duluth.

"I think everybody can speak to some kind of bump in the road in their career," Stracek said this week. "It happens to all of us at some level. You've just got to look back and learn from it and use what you took from it to do better as you go forward. It's an opportunity to adjust for what's coming next."

Three years after returning home to Duluth, and 10 months after stepping into the No. 2 position in the department, Stracek officially retired from a 29-year law enforcement career at the end of last week.

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Stracek said he knew his second stint in Duluth would be relatively short, but it nonetheless "has been a great way to cap off my career."

"It was a lot of fun with going back in doing actual police work and going to calls and building relationships with the other officers and people in the community," he said. "I just found it very rewarding, very settling."

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Duluth Police Lt. Mike Ceynowa demonstrates the department’s new records management system in October 2020.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Stracek will be replaced as head of the patrol division next week by current Lt. Mike Ceynowa, a 24-year veteran of the Duluth Police Department. Ceynowa has worked in nearly every corner of the agency, most recently leading the Professional Standards Unit with responsibilities including major technological systems and the review of complaints for possible officer discipline.

"I'm really excited to have the opportunity to improve the safety of our community, with our community members, and also be an advocate for our patrol staff as we move forward and try to navigate a lot of the changes that are coming to policing," Ceynowa said. "I want to collaborate not only with our community, but also our officers on what a safer Duluth looks like for everyone."

Stracek 'cared about people and service'

Stracek returned to Duluth in March 2019 as the first "lateral" hire under a newly developed process designed to make it easier to bring in officers from other departments. He had been working part time with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Police Department after resigning from Cloquet in 2017 as part of a separation agreement that exonerated him of any wrongdoing.

Having been named deputy chief last May, Stracek said he was proud to have implemented a new scheduling system to ensure the patrol division is properly staffed at all times, as recruiting and hiring have proven to be a challenge. In his tenure, the department also has resumed the CompStat model, which uses data to help identify crime trends and allow police to better direct resources.

"When I took the position, we were really in the midst of a lot of policing challenges, both within our community and nationally," Stracek said. "It's a tough time to be a police officer, but our agency really has done well at making the best of the challenges that have presented to us."

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.com
Steve Stracek takes the oath from Judge Shaun Floerke upon his return to the Duluth Police Department on March 7, 2019. Stracek worked for the department for 21 years before leaving to become the Cloquet police chief in 2014.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Police Chief Mike Tusken said he knew the veteran officer's leadership role would be short-lived, "but his contributions would be many, and he held up his end of the bargain."

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"One of Steve’s greatest contributions was sharing his kind, caring and compassionate heart to all as a servant leader," Tusken said. "He cared about people and service and it shined through in his work each day. He is regarded as one of the most talented police officers of our time and we thank him for his dedicated years of service to the citizens of Duluth and wish him our very best in retirement."

Stracek, 54, said he plans to spend more time with his family, which includes two sons who have followed him into law enforcement: Jon, who was hired by the Hermantown Police Department in 2020, and Jim, who will join the Fond du Lac Police Department this month.

Ceynowa a 'tireless student of policing'

As for his replacement, Stracek said Ceynowa "has a very good understanding of what leadership looks like and will do a fantastic job" as deputy chief.

Ceynowa joined the department in January 1998 and worked as patrol officer for more than six years, also becoming a training officer before moving to to the Violent Crimes Unit as an investigator. He was promoted to sergeant in June 2007, working on the streets before taking over the Crime Scene Investigation and Violent Crime units.

He was promoted to lieutenant in August 2012, serving a stint in patrol before taking over the Major Crimes Unit and then administrative duties, which have included the implementation of a long-awaited new records management system in October 2020.

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Elysia Hoium, infrastructure manager for Duluth’s information technology department, looks on as Lt. Mike Ceynowa talks about the city's system of 200 surveillance cameras in July 2019.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

"In his role in Professional Standards, Mike shares my values about the critical role (that) training, accountability and transparency have in building community trust," Tusken said. "He cares deeply for the people in our community and the staff at DPD. His work ethic and commitment to improving our organization is a constant, and as he is a tireless student of policing and best practices. Mike will help us grow on our arc of continuous improvement as leaders in policing."

Ceynowa, 47, said he hopes to address the challenges posed by the "drivers of our day-to-day operations" — substance-use disorders, homelessness and severe, persistent mental illness — and get people the help they need so that they aren't frequently in contact with law enforcement.

"We all understand right now is a very challenging time in policing, but with that are opportunities," Ceynowa said. "Opportunities to innovate (and) find additional ways to collaborate on some of these things that are facing us right now."

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Ceynowa joins two other deputy chiefs for the department: Laura Marquardt oversees administrative duties, including and training and policy development, while Nick Lukovsky leads the investigations division.

READ MORE ABOUT CRIME AND COURTS
As reported by Carlton County District Court.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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