Tusken named Duluth police chief
Mike Tusken joked that he has been interviewed by “everyone but the pope” over the past few months.
It was a light moment from the longtime Duluth police officer, who has maintained a sense of humor while building a reputation as an effective administrator, but the comment underscored the intensity of the city’s process for selecting its next police chief.
Mayor Emily Larson on Wednesday made Tusken’s appointment official, removing the interim tag that he has held since January when Chief Gordon Ramsay left for the same position in Wichita, Kan.
“We have found a real champion in Mike Tusken,” Larson told a news conference at the Public Safety Building. “I’m so proud and pleased that we present him today as our next police chief, and I know that in the coming months the police staff here and the city will really see the deep, wonderful vision that Mike has for this work.”
Tusken, 47, will lead an agency that has approximately 180 employees and a $20 million budget.
The new chief grew up in Morgan Park and graduated from Denfeld High School. He has spent nearly his entire career with the Duluth Police Department, joining the force in April 1992.
An emotional Tusken said he never expected to rise to the rank of chief. Ramsay, his longtime boss, is a few years his junior.
“When I looked around and surveyed our leadership, I felt there was a lot I had to offer to continue to do the good work that we’ve been doing,” he said. “And I want to offer my own ideas and my own innovations to this department and this community.”
Tusken noted that the department holds an 80 percent approval rating in a recent citizen survey, but said there is more work to be done.
He listed a number of priorities that he hopes to address: stopping the influx of heroin, addressing racial inequalities, expanding community policing efforts, hiring and promoting women into leadership positions.
“This is not my department,” Tusken said. “This is our department.”
His selection came after a four-month process that included nearly a dozen interviews, screening by a community panel and participation in a public forum.
Tusken was one of 11 candidates for the position. He edged out fellow finalist and Duluth native Brian Kozak, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience and has been chief in Cheyenne, Wyo., since 2010.
“Our final two candidates were very well-matched,” Larson said. “These were two very competent candidates with quite a few similarities and some differences, too. Truly, the way that Mike answered some of my questions was the tipping point. It was finding the right match for this job right now, and that’s Mike. It was really through those final interviews, hearing his vision for the department.”
Tusken served as a patrol officer, school liaison officer, head of the department’s financial crimes unit and commander of the eastern policing district before Ramsay picked him as deputy chief for patrol operations in 2006, only days after he was named chief.
Tusken is a graduate of the Hibbing Community College law enforcement program and has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Herzing University in Minneapolis.
Reached by phone in Wichita, Ramsay said Tusken was deserving of the top job.
“He was an incredible partner,” Ramsay said. “He helped me do my job better. Mike has incredible passion for police work and keeping people safe. There are very few people who can outwork him.”
Renee Van Nett serves on the city’s Citizen Review Board and was a member of the community panel that interviewed candidates and provided recommendations to Larson.
She said she’s confident in Tusken’s dedication to working with minority groups, citing his frequent attendance at community meetings, including a recent Racial Equity Agenda gathering.
“I think communities of color have trust issues in general,” Van Nett said. “But the way Mike engages and the organization engages with the communities of color, I feel pretty good. He’s willing to be there at meetings where he’s probably not comfortable. We just need to keep building on what’s already great here in this department.”
Members of the Duluth Police Union met with both finalists and provided feedback to the mayor. President Tom Maida said officers are familiar with Tusken’s leadership and have worked with him on a number of labor issues.
“What Mike brings is an undeniable passion about the community and the department,” Maida said. “I think he’ll do well as chief. We’ve seen him work under Gordon Ramsay all these years, and we’ll see where he takes the department now that he’s at the helm.”
Ramsay said Tusken has a personality well-suited for a leader in the sometimes tense profession of policing.
“He can go into a room full of angry police officers and have them laughing and relaxed in a short amount of time,” he said. “He has a great ability to communicate with people. He can make fun of himself; that’s an attribute a lot of people don’t have.”
Tusken’s appointment will go before the Duluth City Council for approval on Monday. A formal swearing-in ceremony is expected to be held at a later date.
Tusken said he doesn’t expect to bring any dramatic changes to the department, but said he will be listening to officers and the community.
“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “It’s so important, as a police chief, to get all those perspectives.”