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DC Judicial Center packed for sheriff candidates forum

Dunn County Sheriff's Forum

FULL HOUSE — The Dunn County Judicial Center’s community room was packed to standing room only with an estimated 250 people on hand for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department candidates’ forum July 30. — Photo by LeAnn R. Ralph

Topics of questions included meth, mental health and ICE

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  The Dunn County Judicial Center was packed to standing room only with people eager to hear what the five candidates for Dunn County sheriff had to say about a variety of questions.

The forum held on July 30 included candidates Jacob Ohman (Republican), Kevin Bygd (Republican), Adam Zukowski (Republican), Randy Knaack (Democrat) and Rod Dicus (Democrat).

The primary on Tuesday, August 14, will narrow the field to one Republican and one Democrat for the November 6 election.

The forum, with an estimated 250 people in attendance, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Chippewa Valley.

Each candidate was given three minutes to make opening statements, to answer questions and to make closing statements.

The order in which the candidates sat at the table was determined by drawing numbers.

Ellen Ochs, moderator, moved down the line, one at a time, to determine which candidate began answering a question, unless the question was directed to a specific candidate.


Jacob Ohman is from the Downsville area and went to school in Durand. He has owned a herd of 46 Holsteins, managed a company for three years with 40 employees, owns a small business dealing with firearms and sporting goods, and he has earned a degree in business administration from UW-Stout. He was in the Army and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). He believes he will bring a fresh perspective to the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department and would be a good representative of the people of Dunn County.

Kevin Bygd is the captain of field services for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department. He and his wife have been married for 21 years and have three daughters. During his time at the sheriff’s department he has worked as a jailer, dispatcher, patrol deputy and as a firearms instructor. He became captain of field services in 2013. He is third in command at the sheriff’s department behind the sheriff and the chief deputy. Bygd also serves as an ALICE instructor (alert, lockdown, inform, counter evacuate) to teach people how to deal with an active shooter situation, and he is chair of the county’s school safety committee, which includes all of the school district administrators in the county and other law enforcement officials.

Adam Zukowski is a patrol deputy with the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department and also is the DCSD’s humane officer. He grew up in Milwaukee. His parents were immigrants from Poland. He attended school at UW-Stout and said he had lost four floor-mates on October 31, 1991. Zukowski married his wife, the former Mary Styer, in 1997, and his brothers-in-law taught him how to milk cows at Alfalawn Farm. Zukowski served as a state trooper with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. He began working for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department in 2004 and has been selected by other members of the Deputies Association to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the county. Zukowski’s children are active in 4-H, and he has volunteered in many capacities with the county fair and 4-H and is currently the chair of the meat animal project committee.

Randy Knaack says he “grew up down the road” from the Dunn County Judicial Center and participated in 4-H. He has been a member of the Dunn County Barbershoppers for many years and also sings in the CHIPS quartet (Close Harmony is Pretty Swell). Knaack served on the Menomonie Board of Education for six years and advocated for keeping the elementary schools in Knapp and Downsville open. He is currently the mayor of Menomonie and has served for 10 years. One of his missions as mayor has been the cleanup of Lake Menomin, and he has worked with the Tainter-Menomin Lake Improvement Association and UW-Stout. When Knaack was a young man, he and his friends thought it would be fun to drag race in the Dunnville Bottoms. Sheriff Corky Spagnoletti did not appreciate their efforts but did help Knaack obtain a position on the Kaanta racing pit crew. More recently, Knaack has developed relationships with state legislators in Madison and says he wants to work hard on “doing something about meth” and to be not just a “great” but an “exceptional sheriff.”

Rod Dicus, an investigator with the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department primarily in the area of child protection, grew up on a farm near Ladysmith and was the fifth of eight children in the family. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Mt. Senario College. Dicus and his wife have two adult children, one of whom is a speech therapist and the other is a student at UW-Stout. He became a dispatcher for Dunn County in 1986 and a few years later became a patrol deputy. He has been an investigator for the sheriff’s department for more than 10 years and is the department’s DARE instructor (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in the county’s school districts.

Below are the questions asked and candidate answers:

• Describe ways in which the sheriff’s department can work with the Menomonie police department and UW-Stout.

Ohman: said he has not spoken with the Menomonie Police Department but he has spoken with Colfax and UW-Stout, and from what he has heard, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department already has a good working relationship with area law enforcement agencies.

Bygd: The Dunn County Sheriff’s Department already has a good working relationship with Menomonie and Stout and coordinates on a number of initiatives, such as alcohol compliance and homecoming. DCSD works well with the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council (CJCC) as well. DCSD and MPD “work well together on the street.”

Zukowski: said he has a plan for a task force of several patrol deputies to go to Boyceville, Colfax and Elk Mound to work with the police departments as a cohesive unit to take care of the meth problem in the county.

Knaack: Menomonie Police Chief Eric Atkinson works well with the county. A county-based policing system that is inter-jurisdictional could work toward solving a variety of problems.

Dicus: DCSD has a good working relationship with Police Chief Atkinson. A community-oriented working relationship between both departments is what “keeps the community safe.” Discus said he has worked on the sheriff’s department through “a few chiefs and sheriffs” and the working relationship has always been good.


• What are your ideas for controlling methamphetamine and drugs in Dunn County?

Bygd: The sheriff’s department has a deputy who works with the West Central Drug Task Force to focus on Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties. Keeping someone in the position who is a “hard charger” is essential. Property crimes go hand-in-hand with meth use and trafficking. If the meth cases are solved, the property crimes are solved. He estimated 90 percent of the property crimes in Dunn County are meth related.

Zukowski: said he would implement a task force to assist investigators to find users and dealers. Meth and property crimes do go together. Mental health is another component of meth use and working with the CJCC, the judges, the district attorney, and human services to help resolve the issues would be a priority.

Knaack: had a close friend 18 years ago who had a meth problem, and he helped his friend fight the addiction. With his business, some of his employees are on meth, too, and from time to time, he and his wife have “meth heads in the house.” The system is broken, and laws and policies in Madison have to be changed. The general community does not know “how bad the meth problem is.” As mayor he has achieved 18 of 20 goals, and he wants to put Dunn County “on the map” in getting rid of meth.

Dicus: The sheriff’s department must “get out in front of it” and continue going into the schools at grades 5, 7 and 9 to give students options and to teach them ways to avoid drug and alcohol use. “If we “get it early, then we don’t have to deal with it on the back side.”

Ohman: said he did not know how bad the meth problem was until he started campaigning for sheriff. Meth is the number one issue from Eau Galle to Sand Creek. Continue with the DARE program and other programs and make sure they are working. Deputies also must get out around the county more because people in Sand Creek say they rarely see a sheriff’s deputy. People know what goes on in their town. Talk to the locals. “We need your help.”

Justice collaboration

• The question was directed toward Zukowski and pointed out that Dunn County has a collaborative evidence-based criminal justice system in the county’s directional plan. A jail to community re-entry program requires an active plan.

Zukowski: The CJCC is a work in progress that helps people get the help they need. The deputies, jail staff, police departments, judges, district attorney and human services all have to work together with the goal of getting people better and getting them off meth.

Knaack: has been impressed with what he has heard about the CJCC. The community must be involved, and mentors from the community are needed.

Dicus: said he had recently gone out on a case where a woman had overdosed and her four children, ages 16 to 8, had lost their mother. He emphasized the need to work with the youth in our communities.

Ohman: is “all for” progress on rehabilitations and getting people back as members of society and the community and taking care of people in the community.

Bygd: The CJCC is a way to try something different. Putting people in jail or prison doesn’t work, and the programs Dunn County uses steers people in the right direction so they can become taxpayers and good citizens and put their problems behind them. The treatment alternatives to detention are an important collaboration. It is cheaper to keep people in counseling than it is to keep people in jail.


• In your opinion, does a sheriff need a law enforcement background?

Knaack: has had many different experiences although he has never arrested anyone. Through the course of his business, serving on the school board and as mayor, he is good at administration and “knows how to get things done.” Knaack said he has a plan for dealing with meth, and in the position of sheriff, it is important to have someone who can be a conduit between DCSD and the community. “I would be a different kind of sheriff,” he said. When Knaack ran for mayor, he had heard it said he would never be elected. Knaack said all of the candidates would make a good sheriff, but he wants to be an “exceptional sheriff.”

Dicus: would not say that if someone had no law enforcement experience, he or she could not do the job of sheriff. But the sheriff’s department deals with car crashes, domestic violence situations, active shooters and a variety of other situations. A sheriff with law enforcement experience will know how to deal with the situations, and the law enforcement experience is beneficial to the position of sheriff. If the sheriff has no law enforcement background and is not a certified law enforcement officer, when investigating crimes, the department would be giving up a law enforcement position and would have to hire another deputy to make up for a sheriff with no experience.

Ohman: No law enforcement background is needed to run for the position of sheriff. A sheriff is different than a deputy. A sheriff is an elected official and can be a representative of policing or a representative of the community.

Bygd: A sheriff should have law enforcement background. Sometimes at 3 a.m. when the sheriff’s department is serving a warrant, the sheriff needs to be a “real cop” and be one of the people who is serving the warrant.

Zukowski: The patrol deputies cover 880 square miles in Dunn County. The sheriff receives law enforcement calls as well and at times must serve in a law enforcement capacity. DCSD is a small agency, the second smallest in the state for the number of deputies compared to the population. The sheriff has to be active in the department, and the county needs a sheriff who can do the job.


• What is your experience with budgets?

Dicus: noted he has worked for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department for 32 years, and while he is not in administration, the department has a $6.9 million annual budget between DCSD and the jail, and 80 percent of the budget is wages and benefits. The remainder of the budget is vehicle maintenance, fuel, clothing and uniforms, and capital expenditures. In the jail, medical and mental health services are provided through private contractors.

Ohman: said his background in agriculture with owning a herd of dairy cows had been a unique experience because it was a budget over which he had absolutely no control of the income. He also has experience with maintenance and production manager budgets and currently owns his own small business.

Bygd: As captain of field services he is familiar with the sheriff’s department budget process and sits down with the sheriff and the chief deputy to “make do” with the amount of money the county board approves. Four of the DCSD squad vehicles have 150,000 miles on them, and only three new vehicles to replace them. “You do what you can with what you have.”

Zukowski: noted 80 percent of the budget is wages based on bargained contracts with the county. The goal is to keep wages competitive because it is becoming harder to find people to do the job. Sheriff Dennis Smith did not know anything about the DCSD budget when he began his first term as sheriff.

Knaack: said he is very good with numbers. He took over the family business at the age of 19 when his dad died of a heart attack. He also has worked with the school district budget as part of the Board of Education, and he has worked with budgeting for the City of Menomonie as mayor of the city. During his tenure, the city has refinanced long term debt and has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. The city will be paying off $2 million in debt by 2030. “I am very aware of budgets.”

Automatic weapons

• Should there be any restrictions on the sale of automatic weapons?

Ohman: We have good background checks to make sure guns are being sold “to the right people” and says he would never sell a gun to someone he does not feel comfortable with selling a gun. “I think the system works well.”

Bygd: does not support bump stocks to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic weapon. There are no fully automatic weapons in law enforcement. The military has them for a purpose. “We have good restrictions already.”

Zukowski: Fully automatic weapons are heavily regulated. If people pass the background checks, they have a right to possess the fire arms. “I don’t know for what purpose they would want one, but they have the right.”

Knaack: has gone hunting and has lots of hunting stories. Guns are useful for sportsmen or for target practice but they are not necessary beyond that.

Dicus: The second amendment was not written with automatic armor-piercing body rounds in mind. There are lots of background checks for people who want to buy automatic weapons, but the armor piercing rounds should be left to the military.


• As a sheriff, what is your position on ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and deputizing local police departments to arrest undocumented immigrants to assist ICE?

Bygd: Most of the ancestors of the people in the room came to the United States legally. “All I ask is they be documented” and have a social security number.

Zukowski: pointed out his parents came to the United States as legal immigrants and people who come should have green cards or work visas. If they come to the United State illegally they are breaking the law and local law enforcement must notify ICE to come and pick them up. There is a large Hispanic community that works on the farms, and the farms would struggle without the workers. They give their documents to the farmer, but the farmers cannot check their credentials.

Knaack: God created us all as equal but the law is not equal. If the immigrants are causing trouble, then take action. The grandparents of many people in the room were immigrants.

Dicus: said he was not interested in deputizing local law enforcement to assist ICE. There are different issues if they come illegally and commit a crime, but as far as deputizing, “I am not in favor.”

Ohman: said he was not in favor of deputizing local deputies. The deputies are intended to help the local community and their responsibility is to the local community. Ohman said he would work with ICE but would not deputize the deputies to arrest on behalf of ICE.

Mental health

• What can you do to make sure deputies can address mental health issues?

Zukowski: The sheriff’s department is starting to train deputies for crisis intervention and trying to get people to seek help. The sheriff’s department deals with mental health issues frequently. People with mental health problems end up in jail, but “that’s not the place for them.”

Knaack: Mental health is a major issue. The patient becomes an inmate but that’s not the correct place for the person. The sheriff’s department should work with all agencies on mental health issues.

Dicus: said two years ago he had dealt with a 13-year-old girl who had been cutting her wrists. She was at the hospital for three or four hours, but no one had talked to her about helping her, so she left. Mental health is an issue that is almost overwhelming. It’s a tough issue, and it’s not going away. The girl did eventually get help, Dicus noted.

Ohman: The sheriff’s department needs to make sure the deputies get the best training and advice to be able to take the mental health issues seriously.

Bygd: About one-third of the patrol staff have gone through CIT (a community initiative to improve crisis intervention) training and DCSD will keep sending people until everyone is trained. The training helps deputies know how to deal with situations and how to de-escalate situations.

School safety

• What will you do about school safety?

Knaack: The city and the school district are working on an agreement for a youth services officer in Menomonie. The townships in the Menomonie school district should put in money to help pay for the officer. The issue needs a broader spectrum of involvement.

Dicus: School safety is a huge issue. In Elk Mound, Boyceville and Colfax there are local law enforcement to respond to schools if needed, along with the sheriff’s department. As sheriff, Dicus said he would put together a threat assessment team. The school staff knows what is going on with kids, and the team could do an assessment to see if there are weapons in the home or other factors. The school districts and law enforcement have to do what is best for kids.

Ohman: School safety is a big concern, and the schools need school safety officers. The deputies should know the layout of the schools.

Bygd: is chair of the safe school committee in Dunn County. The committee meets three times each year. Mental health is a big issue. Door locking systems are important to school safety. Camera systems are important. Bygd noted he is an ALICE instructor.

Zukowski: School safety is a priority. The Dunn County sheriff’s department has maps of the schools and keys to the school buildings in the county. The deputies are prepared for situations in schools and businesses.

Strengths and needs

• The question, directed to Rod Dicus, asked what two major strengths does the DCSD have and what are two needs?

Dicus: The strength of the department is it is a community oriented department. Having the proper equipment is high on the list of strengths. The needs are that employees must know they are valued and important. And if there is a problem, do not wait six months or eight months. “Get it figured out right away.”

Ohman: The strengths are the deputies have a lot of experience with personal relationships. The officers care. Weaknesses are the department needs to bring in something new and bring in change and new perspectives.

Bygd: The strengths of the department are the people on patrol and who work in the jail. “We are fortunate to have great employees. People make the department.” Training and equipment are strengths as well. The needs are there should be more of a shuffle of responsibility in the agency and more inclusiveness. The department needs to hold staff meetings again. Prior staff meetings turned into complaint sessions.

Zukowski: The strengths of the department are the deputies know how to handle the public and how to respond to the public. Equipment is a strength too. The weaknesses are that the department needs to take better care of people and to say “thank you” and “good job” for years of service. The department also should be more careful of providing mental health care for the deputies. “We see the dark side of society all the time.” Alcoholism is high among retired law enforcement. “We should do a better job of getting people to retirement.”

Knaack: The strengths are that DCSD works well with other departments. The deputies are comrades and back up their fellow officers. The needs are for more transparency. The department should be more aware of sex trafficking as well. “We have an outstanding group of people (at the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department).” 

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