Cop from Inver Grove Heights will be county’s chief deputy

Joe Leko
Joe Leko

Joe Leko hasn’t always wanted to be a cop.

With a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and environmental studies, he initially envisioned working for a state agency in that field.

At 27, the Inver Grove Heights resident got his foot in the law-enforcement door working weekends for Dakota County’s Water Patrol in 1997.

Then, a Dakota County Sheriff’s Department deputy encouraged him to join the organization.

“I was lucky and got a job” as a general-duty deputy, Leko said. “I haven’t looked back.”

He’s since worked his way up in the department serving in roles from detective to sergeant to, most recently, captain of detention services. Sheriff-elect Tim Leslie recently named him the next chief deputy sheriff, making Leko his “right-hand person” come January. 

According to Leslie, a committee that included current Sheriff Dave Bellows interviewed four candidates and made recommendations before Leslie sat down with those on the short list.

Leslie said he’s been watching Leko as he’s grown in various positions and promotions.

“He’s had a steady increase in responsibility,” Leslie said. “He’s mature. He makes good decisions. He has good judgment, and he’s well liked.”

Served in a variety of leadership roles

Leko, 44, grew up in West St. Paul, attending Archbishop Brady High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and an associate degree in law enforcement from Inver Hills Community College.

Since joining the sheriff’s office about 17 years ago, he’s been a detective, sergeant, the Dakota County Drug Task Force supervisor, patrol captain and the captain of detention services (jail administration). He also served 11 years on the SWAT Team.

Last week, Leko finished his last class in pursuit of his master’s degree in public safety and law enforcement leadership at the University of St. Thomas.

He  and his wife, Missy, have a 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. He’s a youth basketball coach and is involved with the Inver Grove Traveling Basketball Board.

Mentor promotes mentee

Leko has worked closely with Leslie, since the current sheriff hired Leslie as his chief deputy about four years ago.

Leslie encouraged Leko to continue his college education at St. Thomas, where Leslie himself studied.

After Leslie picked Leko as his replacement, Leko said he was humbled “to see that he views me that way.”

“I do feel I was ready for the position,” Leko said. “I understand the gravity and the heavy responsibility that I will have.”

The chief deputy acts much like a chief operating officer of the sheriff’s department, making sure “the trains run on time,” Leslie said. The chief deputy manages internal operations from the about $18-million budget to personnel issues among the 200-person staff.

Though Leko is still focusing on his current position, he said he will collaborate with Leslie, looking at the long-term success of the organization.

“We’re just always looking to advance and be moving forward in everything we do,” Leko said.

Leslie said there’s a variety of issues the sheriff’s office will face in the near future.

From tackling internet-related crime with the new county-wide Electronic Crimes Unit to the changing regulation of marijuana to data practices issues, Leslie said he needed someone like Leko by his side.

For instance, Leko helped implement a new policy manual, something that requires painstaking attention to detail. Leslie said Leko “went right after it and took care of the business we needed to get done.”

“We have some similarities in our thinking and our approach to complex problems, which is an alignment I need,” Leslie said.

Leko said he believes in the people who work for the sheriff’s office, and he’s excited about the future of the organization.

“I decided to take (the chief deputy position) because I feel I have things I can offer,” he said. “I want to be a part of the future.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and Follow her at


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