For Tim Leslie, a busy first year as sheriff
Almost 10 months into his new role as the Dakota County Sheriff, there’s been no shortage of items on Tim Leslie’s to-do list.
There’s the electronic crime unit, the citizen’s advisory council, a new partnership to help educate seniors and a new effort to collect DNA from violent offenders when they’re admitted into the jail.
All of it has left Leslie’s head spinning, but he said he wouldn’t change a thing about it. Elected in the fall of 2014, Leslie moved up from the county’s chief deputy under sheriff Dave Bellows to the top spot on Jan. 1.
Leslie is in charge of an $18 million annual budget. About $9 million of that is spent for the 265-bed jail in Hastings and the other $9 million covers the rest of the operations for the sheriff’s office. There are about 200 employees in the office.
Among the big topics these days for those in law enforcement administration are body cameras. Several agencies across the state, including Farmington police, have begun adopting them, and it’s a conversation happening now at Dakota County.
What footage is public, and what footage isn’t, is among the big debates.
“We find it interesting — what do people want to see and what don’t they want to see?” Leslie said. “If my mother fell off the commode and was in a pool of blood and we go out to assist her, would that become public? That’s an example of what we need to figure out.”
The county is waiting for a statewide policy on what’s private and what isn’t, Leslie said.
In August, Dakota County began collecting DNA samples from adults and juveniles charged with violent crimes including murder, manslaughter, assault, robbery, burglary and kidnapping.
The samples are sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for testing. The samples are also entered in a database. If the suspect is cleared of the charges, the information would be removed, Leslie said when the program was announced.
“What I hear from residents is, they want us to use all the tools available to us to hold criminals accountable,” Leslie said.
The DNA samples should, ultimately, lead to the resolution of more cases, the sheriff said.
“We hope to solve more crimes this way,” Leslie said. “We have to be progressive.”
Dakota County is the first county in the state to do DNA collection at the time of charging. Several other counties are watching to see how it goes here.
It’s expected the policy will be challenged legally at some point, which is something county attorney James Backstrom is ready for, Leslie said.
“He’s fine with that,” Leslie said. “He’s told me, ‘We should be using all of our tools.’”
Dakota County recently signed on to be part of TRIAD, a a collaboration among law enforcement, senior citizens and community groups to enhance senior safety. The three groups “work together to reduce the victimization of seniors, decrease the fear of crime, and promote and facilitate the ongoing information exchange between law enforcement and older adults,” according to a press release issued by Leslie in August. “No admission is required so seniors can sign up and talk to Dakota County Deputies about topics like scams, social media, winter driving and exercise.”
Leslie said in the release: “As our society ages we need more and more services for those entering their senior years. It is my belief and the belief of the entire Dakota County Sheriff’s Office that a proactive and organized approach to the relationships we hold with our seniors is the best way to achieve the goals set forth by these two programs. Serving our seniors is a priority for the sheriff’s office and the implementation of these two programs is necessary in order to uphold our promise.”
Leslie grew up in south Minneapolis and graduated from Washburn High in 1976. He ended up marrying his high school sweetheart, Julie, some 33 years ago.
He earned a degree in law enforcement from Mankato State College in 1980 and got his first job out of college with the St. Paul Police Department.
“Just the stories were fascinating to me,” he said. “I was an athlete in high school, and I didn’t want to sit behind a desk.”
He earned his Master’s degree in 1995 from the University of St. Thomas and moved his way up at the SPPD. He was eventually the chief of staff for St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney and was also the senior commander of the Central District.
In 2003, he was appointed to be the assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He worked there until 2010, when he came to Dakota County to work under Bellows.
Tim and Julie Leslie have four children.