SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Mike Milstead is assured of winning another term as sheriff when voters in Minnehaha County cast their ballots in November. That’s because Milstead is, once again, running unopposed. This year marks Milstead’s 25th year as the county’s top law enforcement officer. He’s already looking forward to his next 4-year-term in office.

The November election will mark the sixth time Mike Milstead has run for sheriff unopposed.

“It either says I’m doing a good job, or, nobody wants my job. I’m not sure which one,” Milstead said.

Milstead on patrol while with Sioux Falls Police.
Milstead on patrol while with Sioux Falls Police.

Milstead was a lieutenant with the Sioux Falls Police Department, in charge of the night shift, when the Minnehaha County Commission appointed him sheriff back in 1997.

“And the big focus of the night shift at that time was the problem they were having on the downtown loop and that was the problem that Sioux Falls was facing. I think the new night shift commander today would probably embrace having the loop as the big problem of the day,” Milstead said.

Throw in Milstead’s time with the police department and he’s approaching a half-century in law enforcement.

“It’s still exciting after nearly 50 years between the two departments. This is an incredibly exciting job. Too exciting at times, but it is exciting,” Milstead said.

Milstead at swearing-in event
Milstead at swearing-in event.

Milstead’s time in office has run parallel with rapid growth within the county and with that, a rise in certain types of crimes including drug trafficking and deadly overdoses.

“We never saw deaths at the level that we do now. Just in our county, we’ve seen a 40-percent increase in one year and a 130-percent increase in the last 5-years in overdose deaths,” Milstead said.

Milstead says serving as chairman of the National Sheriff’s Association Drug Enforcement Committee gives him a strong voice in addressing the nation’s drug crisis. Milstead says he’s also concerned about a rise in violent crime among juveniles, often encouraged by social media.

“Individuals that maybe would have a propensity toward violence, they wouldn’t have any friends in their school maybe or somebody to egg them on. But with social media, they can go on whatever room they want and find like-minded individuals to try to inspire them to do bad things,” Milstead said.

“I think he had a pretty large learning curve when he first started. A lot of people in law enforcement don’t fully appreciate the complexity of the sheriff’s role and I think obviously, when he started, he immediately realized he had a jail to operate. As a policeman, you don’t really have to worry about the jail other than to drop people off,” Minnehaha County Chief Deputy Jeff Gromer said.

Another highlight of Milstead’s career as sheriff was overseeing the construction of a new 400 bed, state-of-the-art jail two decades ago, and an expansion of the jail two years ago.

“When I first started, the conditions we were working under were not the best for us or the inmates and Milstead was the one that stepped-up and worked to get a different jail, more safer jail than we had. So, I credit him for that,” Programs & Services Manager Michelle Boyd said.

But through all the rewards that come with being sheriff, Milstead is ever mindful of his toughest days on the job.

“I’ve had people die in our custody. I lost staff members, Steve Maciejewski, working across the street. In the line of duty, had a medical emergency. That probably tops the list. Losing an officer,” Milstead said.

When it comes to making tough decisions through the years, Milstead looks down the street from his office and applies what he calls the ‘Minnesota Avenue Rule.’

“I imagine pulling about the first cars coming down Minnesota Avenue here, have them all pull into the parking lot. Get on the hood of their car and have a discussion and say hey, here’s my choice, I have a decision to make. What’s in the best interest of the people,” Milstead said.

Milstead says community involvement has been a key to his success as sheriff. He begins his sixth term in office, unsure of whether it will be his last. But whenever retirement comes for Milstead, he’s confident his replacement will seamlessly step into the office and carry on.

“This is not about me, it’s about we, it’s about the people we have working here,” Milstead said.

Milstead says among his goals for his next term as sheriff will be to build upon already strong working relationships with other law enforcement agencies, including the Sioux Falls Police Department. He says such coordination will improve his department’s response capabilities so that more experienced officers are available to be dispatched to large emergencies.