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Race for Hennepin County Sheriff set to make historic finish

For the first time since Hennepin County was established in 1852, voters will change the face of public safety by electing the county’s first Black sheriff.

MINNEAPOLIS — The face of public safety for Hennepin County is about to change in a historic finish as the county votes to elect its first Black sheriff. 

A first for the county since it was established in 1852. 

"I'm looking forward to this historic moment," said Major Dewanna Witt, who would also become the first woman to serve as sheriff in Hennepin County. 

"I've kind of done the first deal quite a bit, this is nothing new to me," said Joseph Banks, also running for Hennepin County Sheriff. 

Both Banks and Witt have a combined total of more than 40 years in law enforcement in various roles, which they say makes them the perfect fit for the county's top safety seat. 

Let's start with Major Witt: She's a wife, mother and grandmother, currently serving as a major in the department that oversees the largest bureau — adult detention and court services.

When asked what prompted her to run for Hennepin County Sheriff, Witt replied, "With everything that we see going on in the county, all the lack of trust, lack of accountability on all parts, I had a decision to make. Either I can run and do my best to make things better or I could sit and do nothing."

For Witt, this idea of "better" stems from her own personal lived experiences, having grown up on the south side of Minneapolis, becoming a mother at 15 and being a victim of crime. 

"It makes me more valuable," said Witt. 

When asked what "better" looks like, Witt replied, "Trust. You know we have nothing without trust, and in order to have that, we have to be able to meet people where they're at. We have to be able to collaborate with others to get us there because there's no one person, no one community, that is responsible. We're all in this."

Sentiments her challenger, outsider Joseph Banks, shares. 

When asked what sets him apart from her, Banks replied, "I'm out here with the people. I hear what they're saying that needs to be fixed and I want them to know they have a voice that matters."

Banks, a former police chief, now a bail bondsman, is also the co-founder of Twin Cities Recovery Project, an organization assisting those struggling with substance abuse. 

"There is a definite need to look at how people got to the point where they're committing crimes," said Banks. 

Which is the driving force behind Bank's approach to public safety.

"Nonpartisan proactive patrol," said Banks. 

Offering services to those in need, while also using deputies to assist with patrols. 

"My biggest concern is that it's not just that we're short officers, but what are we doing with the officers that we have that could make a difference to try and fix the problem today? We got enough people to do the job, we need to reallocate those resources," explained Banks. 

It's a historic race that both are aiming to finish with one goal. 

"That people will be safe," said Banks. 

"We don't have time to catch up; we need to keep our foot on the gas," said Witt. 

Over the summer, there were concerns raised over Witt's place of residence after she was seen in her county-issued car at her home in Dakota County. 

Witt says she still owns the home but moved to Minneapolis earlier this year.

“I’m aware of what the requirements are and quite frankly I am not stupid enough to put myself in a situation to be charged with a crime," said Major Witt. 

State law requires candidates to maintain residence in their district for at least 30 days before the general election.

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