Tim Leslie preps to lead Dakota County Sheriff’s Office

Dakota County Chief Deputy Tim Leslie was elected to replace his mentor, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows, once his term expires Dec. 31.
Dakota County Chief Deputy Tim Leslie was elected to replace his mentor, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows, once his term expires Dec. 31. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)
Tim Leslie walked in a parade in West St. Paul this summer, trying to get his name out during his campaign for Dakota County sheriff.
Tim Leslie walked in a parade in West St. Paul this summer, trying to get his name out during his campaign for Dakota County sheriff. (submitted photo)
After 35 years in law enforcement, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows decided not to seek re-election this year. His term expires Dec. 31, and his chief deputy, Tim Leslie, will take his place.
After 35 years in law enforcement, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows decided not to seek re-election this year. His term expires Dec. 31, and his chief deputy, Tim Leslie, will take his place. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Dave Bellows reflects on term as county’s top cop

Tim Leslie of Mendota Heights has shared an office wall with Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows in Hastings for more than four years.

As chief deputy, Leslie has been focusing on the internal operations of the Sheriff’s Office, from the $18-million budget to personnel issues among the 200-person staff.

Now that he’s been elected to replace his mentor, Bellows, he’ll start thinking outwardly. He plans to continue outreach efforts to collaborate with police departments countywide, sharing resources and making the most out of taxpayers’ dollars, he said.

“I’m honored and I’m humbled,” Leslie said. “I plan on giving it a 100-percent effort and being present and available.”

Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom first met Leslie seven years ago when he was working at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Backstrom endorsed Leslie in the election.

“Tim is a consummate professional,” Backstrom said. “He is highly respected by his peers. He has great management skills.

“We’re lucky to have someone of his skills in Dakota County.”

Passing the torch

After 35 years in law enforcement, Bellows decided not to seek re-election in November. He started out with the Lakeville Police Department in 1980. After 19 years there, then-Dakota County Sheriff Don Gudmundson asked him to be a commander. He became chief deputy a year after that.

He was appointed to sheriff in February of 2010, and ran successfully to keep the spot that fall.

“If I ran (again), I would want to fulfill the entire term,” Bellows said in an interview at his office Tuesday. “Without being able to say, ‘I have another four years in me,’ I thought, ‘It’s probably time to go.’”

Plus, he said, the rest of his Peace Officer Standards and Training classmates have already retired from law enforcement.

Bellows plans to continue to teach part-time at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Metro State University, and spend time with his soon-to-be six grandchildren (the sixth was due last week, he said).

“It’s been, for me, a spectacular career and a blessed career,” he said.

Bellows hand-picked Leslie to be chief deputy in 2010. The newly-appointed sheriff wanted someone with leadership experience, experience promoting diversity and a great reputation.

Leslie grew up in South Minneapolis. He graduated from Washburn High School in 1976, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement at Mankato State University in 1980. He earned his master’s degree in public safety education and administration at the University of St. Thomas in 1995, and graduated at Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command.

Leslie, who has four kids with his wife, Julie, lived in West St. Paul for 17 years before moving to Mendota Heights.

According to Bellows, Leslie had built relationships and his reputation statewide in his 23 years with the St. Paul Police Department and seven years as assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

It was a natural next step for Bellows to encourage Leslie to run for sheriff.

“He’s a very experienced and competent individual,” Bellows said. “He’s a critical thinker and a visionary.”

Leslie’s already led significant collaborative efforts across the county. During the tail end of his time as chief deputy, Leslie took on the expansion of the county’s Electronic Crimes Unit. The unit has already aided in the pursuit of charges in recent murder cases, Bellows said, including one in West St. Paul where the suspect used his phone to take a “selfie” with what appeared to be the body of his girlfriend.

Leslie had to connect police chiefs and city leaders to beef up the ECU. The Dakota County Board of Commissioners Nov. 25 passed a joint powers agreement, Leslie said, expanding the effort.

Continuing the legacy

The sometimes “sleepy” nature of the county is “not sleepy anymore,” Leslie said. In the last year, a Mendota Heights cop was killed and there were several murders, he said.

“Things are starting to ebb up,” he said. “I’d like to get ahead of that.”

Part of that is putting people in jail who “need to be in jail,” and then providing services, such as education and substance abuse programming to keep inmates  from coming back, he said.

“(The jail’s a) $9.5 million operation,” he said. “The less people we have in the jail, the less it costs taxpayers.”

“They’re going to be living down the block. How do you want them to come out? A better criminal or a better person? We prefer better person.”

In 2015, Leslie plans to focus on a goal of reducing outstanding arrest warrants by 10 percent. If that threshold isn’t crossed, he said the sheriff’s office may have to seek additional funding for staff dedicated to executing warrants.

Leslie said Bellows has been a good teacher in finding innovative ways to reduce expenses, while still remaining effective.

To cut down costs related to frivolous lawsuits involving inmates, the sheriff’s office is putting body cameras on correctional deputies in the jail, Leslie said. Under Bellows’ leadership, the organization went from using public health nurses to working with a private company, trimming off around $160,000 a year.

In a job that can be difficult at times, having a sense of humor is crucial, according to Bellows and Leslie. 

“We laugh a lot,” Leslie said. “I hope to keep that here in the office.”

As sheriff, “You deal with some pretty tough stuff,” Bellows said. “You can’t be all consumed by that. You need to be able to find some humor and keep your balance.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillinews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.
 

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