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St. Louis County Sheriff candidates vie for votes

St. Louis County Sheriff candidates Jason Lukovsky and Gordon Ramsay took the stage Monday morning at the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce's forum.

two men sit at a table with microphones
St. Louis County sheriff candidates Gordon Ramsay, left, and Jason Lukovsky answer questions at a forum hosted by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — St. Louis County sheriff candidates Jason Lukovsky and Gordon Ramsay took the stage Monday morning at the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce's forum.

Lukovsky is a life-long St. Louis County resident who graduated from Duluth Denfeld High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth. He currently lives in Fredenberg Township with his wife of 24 years, 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. He’s worked with the county for 24 years and is currently an undersheriff with the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.

“I’ve been committed to this area my entire life,” Lukovsky said. “I’ve worked in or supervised in every division within our organization.”

Ramsay is also “a Duluth guy,” who graduated from Duluth East High School, went to UMD and graduate school at the College of St. Scholastica for a master’s in management. He started as a police officer in Iron River, Wisconsin, and has been in the profession for 30 years, rising to the rank of chief in the Duluth Police Department in 2006. He also worked as a chief in Wichita, Kansas, for six years. He lives in the Lakeside-Lester Park neighborhood with his wife of 25 years, 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.

“I came to Duluth in the mid 90s and worked primarily in the Central Hillside and downtown area,” Ramsay said. “I took the Central Hillside job — no one else wanted it. I was the sole applicant. And that job really shaped me as a law enforcement officer. I realized the importance of relationships and getting the job done.”

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Both Ramsay and Lukovsky agreed that lack of staffing was a significant issue. Ramsay mentioned a decrease in 911 operators and Lukovsky said lack of staffing has impacted every division of the sheriff’s office.

“We need a strategic recruiting, retention and wellness plan and then we have to be intentional about it,” Ramsay said. “In Wichita, we increased the number of applicants from 432, just before I got there, to over 1,000 in 2020. So I have the track record of doing so.”

Lukovsky agreed with the need for a strategic plan and added that the sheriff’s office has already been working with human resources to better target audiences for recruitment, especially from communities of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Should Duluth change its parks fund from a fixed amount to a percentage?

“Over the last two years, from a law enforcement standpoint, our profession kind of took a black eye. We recognize that we need to take a different approach in our response,” Lukovsky said.

When asked what people from the northern area of St. Louis County can expect from two south St. Louis County residents, Lukovsky cited his union endorsements and made a significant promise.

“When elected sheriff, I am taking that into account and my undersheriff will be from the north,” Lukovsky said. “We have strong representation from our northern divisions and I think that the relationships will continue to build.”

Ramsay cited putting 30,000 miles on his truck while he traveled around the county and his former presidency with the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association.

“I developed strong relationships on the Range that exist to this day,” Ramsay said. “I got the Iron Range police chief’s endorsement because we have those relationships.”

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Local gun store operator Chad Walsh will continue on with a write-in campaign.

Regarding movements to defund the police and other law enforcement agencies, Ramsay cited his work in Duluth with efforts to reduce the number of children of color at the Arrowhead Juvenile Center and said he’s passionate about building bridges with people of color about the role police play in society.

“We need the police, we need leadership to stand up for them and talk about the good things that they do every day,” Ramsay said. “But there are areas that we can improve in.”

Lukovsky said law enforcement officers need to “hold ourselves more accountable.”

“We need to be the example,” Lukovsky said. “We need to engage our community partners, talk to them and find out what their expectations are. Having people at the table is only going to make our organization better.”

When asked about whether more laws need to be put in place on gun control, Lukovsky stated that Minnesota’s current laws are sufficient. Ramsay said there were some inconsistencies regarding background checks.

Regarding the rise of overdoses and fentanyl and opioid use, Ramsay said “we’re not doing enough prevention and education for our youth.”

“We need to keep on investing in the task forces, but yes there’s a prevention and care component behind it,” Lukovsky said. “That’s part of the revolving door that we’re seeing at the jail and the numbers of people up there.”

Lukovsky also said that follow-up post incarceration is also important so that people know where they can get services.

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On the issue of working with other partner agencies, Ramsay said the sheriff’s office could use better support at a federal level. Both cited effective work being done by Lake Superior task forces in the areas of violent offenders and drugs.

Ramsay took issue with how communication flows through the county and their partner law enforcement agencies. He said since the 911 center was taken over by the sheriff’s office and record systems were split, he’s seen an erosion of communication.

“We have split record systems in the county where the county has its own and Duluth has its own. We lost that collaboration,” Ramsay said. “The whole Arrowhead region used to be on one record and one dispatching system. Now that’s all fallen apart.”

Lukovsky agreed with Ramsay’s assessment of the record system and said it was due to “choices made by politicians prior to us.”

“I was part of the glue that was trying to keep the Arrowhead region together,” Lukovsky said. “I’ve lived it for the past five years and I know exactly what it takes for that software and hardware infrastructure to get us all back on the same information page again.”

Regarding mental health treatment and incarceration, Ramsay said he'd like to see a "mental health pod" at the county jail for those in crisis with expertise to help them recover. He cited an integrated care team he created consisting of a police officer, social worker and an EMS personnel which helped lower ER visits and helped stabilize individuals and prevent mental health crises.

Lukovsky said he didn't want to "be in the mental health business" and instead rely on medical professionals do to that sort of work. He said the substance use response team with the Lake Superior Violent Offender Task Force was already doing a lot of that work and shared his enthusiasm for a recent agreement with St. Luke's hospital for inmate medical care.

This story was updated at 1:55 p.m. Oct. 6 to correct misattributed comments on mental health. It was originally posted at 9:56 p.m. Oct. 3. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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