Four years ago, Juan Lopez became the first Latino to run for Hennepin County Sheriff. Lopez got the DFL endorsement that time around but lost the race, and went back to working with juvenile offenders in Hennepin County. But fours years later, Lopez is back and yesterday won the endorsement from the DFL party.
Born in Puerto Rico, Lopez grew up in New Jersey, and settled in Minnesota after his honorable discharge from the Army. He now lives in Bloomington, where he has lived for more than 20 years, and he shares custody of his two children, William, 18, and Angela, 16. Lopez, who speaks Spanish, is passionate about creating connections between the community and law enforcement.
La Prensa de Minnesota sat down to ask Lopez why he is back and what he would hope to accomplish as Hennepin County Sheriff.
What did you learn from running four years ago?
It’s hard work, its exhausting, and its rewarding. I came away from it with a deep understanding between a sense of community and politics.
Why are you running again?
Four years later what do you we have? The same status quo. I still grit my teeth when I hear the ongoing concerns of the rank and file of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office and the community.
What are some of the concerns within the department?
This is a new era. We need to get away from old management style. Dignity and respect start at the top, and that trickles down and affects how communities are served.
What about concerns among the community?
There is not enough representation [of them] throughout the organization. We have become an international community; we need to be reflective of the community we serve.
Tell us about your job now.
I work for Hennepin County Juvenile Probation. I work with small groups with a court ordered program working with juveniles involved in gun-related crimes. It is a 16-week program where we educate them about the dangers of guns, about the dangers of taking guns out into the streets and we give them better alternatives and choices.
With the growing Latino population in Hennepin County, relations between the Latino community and law enforcement are more important than ever. What does the Latino community need to know about the Sheriff’s office and law enforcement in general?
First, that we are trained as peace officers. Law enforcement officers have a tough job; we put our lives on the line every day. Second, they need to understand the differences between the Sheriff’s office and the city. We have distinct duties. I will help to educate people about the differences.
What are those differences?
The Sheriff’s Office is charged with maintaining the waterways and keeping the jail – and that is different than what the city police do. We staff and process inmates, we keep them safe and secure. But no matter what roles distinct agencies have, all communities want safe and peaceful neighborhoods and have a good place to raise their kids.
What would you focus on as sheriff?
More community involvement. I think law enforcement has lost touch with the citizens we serve and I want to be that reconnect between law enforcement and our communities. I want to be more visible and I want folks to know who their sheriff is.
What is your top priority?
After 9/11, things changed. My number-one priority is the safety and security of our citizens in our communities.
What would you bring as Hennepin County Sheriff?
I am a 10-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, so I know and have lived the inner workings of the Sheriff’s office. I cut my teeth at the Hennepin County Jail – one of the most difficult facilities in the state. It is a tough place, but I treated everyone with respect. Every human being deserves respect – no matter what your gender or color are.
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