Facing unique challenges

After being elected in 2018, Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons has faced several unexpected challenges in his first 18 months.

When Barry Fitzgibbons took office as the sheriff of Otter Tail County he knew the staff he inherited from former sheriff, Brian Schlueter quite well, having served as Schuelter’s chief deputy.

Schlueter served the county for more than 20 years he also knew many of the demands of the sheriff’s office in a county larger than the state of Rhode Island.

“It has been a little over 18 months since I have taken office,” Fitzgibbons said. “A lot has gone on in that time. I would have never imagined that we would be in a time of a global pandemic and civil unrest.”

Like anyone in a leadership role Fitzgibbons has been faced with big challenges due to the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed the way that we do business,” Fitzgibbons said. “I believe that when a person calls the sheriff’s office, they deserve to have a deputy respond when available. Due to COVID-19, nonemergency calls are responded to with a telephone call to mitigate COVID-19 exposure. Records staff members have worked remotely, our building has not been open to the public, new inmates are in isolation for a period, masks are being worn.”

One of the first challenges he tackled was appointing a new chief deputy. The deputy he chose was Reed Reinbold, who grew up in Henning. 

Fitzgibbons heads a law enforcement staff of approximately 100 men and women. His other top deputies include Lt. Keith Van Dyke (administrations), James Stewart (detention) and Greg Seim (operations).

“The transition to sheriff has been easier due to the staff that are providing professional services every day,” Fitzgibbons said. “I have taken the opportunity to take a look at how we can improve our service as well as increase efficiencies.” 

On May 25 a Black resident of South Minneapolis, George Floyd, died while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer. Officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers were summarily fired, arrested and charged in connection with the death. 

After Floyd’s death, protests sprang up in Minneapolis, St. Paul and around the United States. Rioting soon followed. The Minneapolis City Council came out in favor of completely revamping the Minneapolis Police Department - the largest police force in the state.

Fitzgibbon’s outstate force has dodged the ferocious criticism voiced in the metro area.

“The Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office works hard to earn respect and build trust with our communities. This is evident in how we are being treated after the death of George Floyd,” Fitzgibbons said. “The community has gone out of its way to show appreciation for law enforcement in Otter Tail County. We are so blessed to work in an area where there is mutual respect between law enforcement and the public.” 

Fitzgibbons’ people have participated in many events in the last 18 months  including Relay for Life, the torch run for Special Olympics, the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office Open House/Safety Day, the first Otter Tail County Special Olympics Polar Plunge, the Salvation Army Giving Tree and the Golden Drive Homeless Kids sock drive.

Two staff members have been awarded Minnesota Sheriff’s Association Awards. Sue Nelson was awarded the Minnesota Sheriffs Association (MSA) Office Support Person of the Year and corrections officer, Cameron Hanson was awarded the MSA Life Saving Award for his role in rescuing a person in the water in December 2018.

“There is always room for improvement, and we will continue to strive to improve the way we deliver services through training and equipment. The men and women of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office are here to serve you and keep our communities safe,” Fitzgibbons said.

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