Steve Stracek has been named deputy chief of the Duluth Police Department, returning to the highest ranks of the agency several years after an ill-fated departure to become Cloquet police chief.

Stracek, 53, will head the department's patrol division, Chief Mike Tusken announced Friday afternoon. In his position, the veteran officer will supervise 114 staff members.

“Steve is admired by those he works among and serves for his talent, compassion, kindness, professionalism and commitment to service," Tusken said in a statement. "Steve’s work and life experience offer us the unique opportunity to have a deputy police chief who’s ready on day one. Officer Stracek is an excellent fit for this position."

Stracek spent 21 years working his way up through the Duluth police force, achieving the rank of lieutenant and one of the most visible positions in the department: commander of the regionwide Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, which he led during the early days of the opioid crisis in the Northland.

Steve Stracek, pictured when he was a lieutenant on the Duluth Police Department in 2014, holds an evidence bag containing a small package of heroin while talking about the drug’s growing use in the Northland and beyond. (Steve Kuchera / File / News Tribune)
Steve Stracek, pictured when he was a lieutenant on the Duluth Police Department in 2014, holds an evidence bag containing a small package of heroin while talking about the drug’s growing use in the Northland and beyond. (Steve Kuchera / File / News Tribune)

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A resident of Esko, Stracek applied for and was named chief in Cloquet in summer 2014. But his time there was cut short amid significant political and union strife.

Stracek was placed on leave by the Cloquet City Council after a complaint was received about his leadership in March 2017. An independent investigation was undertaken, and he was exonerated of all charges levied against him that summer. But he also agreed to retire from the department as part of a settlement agreement.

Stracek subsequently spent eight months as a part-time officer with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Police Department before Tusken brought him back to Duluth as a rank-and-file officer under a new "lateral" hiring process that had recently been implemented.

After two years of responding to routine calls in the westernmost district of the city, Stracek will step into the No. 2 position at the department, which includes roughly 155 sworn officers and 40 civilian staffers.

Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek (center) talks to city of Cloquet labor law attorney Brandon Fitzsimmons as Stracek’s attorney, Thomas Torgerson (right), of Hanft Fride Law Firm, sits next to him near the end of a Cloquet City Council meeting in 2017. (Jamie Lund / File / Cloquet Pine Journal)
Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek (center) talks to city of Cloquet labor law attorney Brandon Fitzsimmons as Stracek’s attorney, Thomas Torgerson (right), of Hanft Fride Law Firm, sits next to him near the end of a Cloquet City Council meeting in 2017. (Jamie Lund / File / Cloquet Pine Journal)

“While working patrol over the past two years, Stracek has had an opportunity to see up close and personal the challenges and opportunities in our neighborhoods while building the relationships and rapport necessary to be an effective leader in our community and to our talented staff," Tusken said. "I have known and worked with Stracek during much of my career and have always known him to have the courage to do what’s right, not easy — the qualities we expect our staff to exemplify.”

The move comes as part of the department's first administrative restructuring in 29 years.

The Duluth City Council in February approved a change to the city charter that authorized the addition of a third deputy chief to oversee training, policy development and a host of other administrative duties. The restructuring, meant to bring better accountability and more internal oversight of policing issues, comes through the replacement of a lieutenant position.

Deputy Chief Laura Marquardt, who has headed investigations and administration since 2016, will lead the new administration-only division. Nick Lukovsky, deputy chief of the patrol division for nearly five years, will lead the division solely focused on investigations.

City officials said the transition will be effective May 22, as the ordinance does not become official for 90 days.

A chart provided by the Duluth Police Department outlines the responsibilities of each of the agency's three deputy chiefs, effective May 22.
A chart provided by the Duluth Police Department outlines the responsibilities of each of the agency's three deputy chiefs, effective May 22.