Sheriff Winger to retire

Beltrami County Sheriff Keith Winger announced last week that he will retire when his current term expires at the end of the year. He has served as sheriff since January 1999.

Beltrami County Sheriff Keith Winger announced last week that he will retire when his current term expires at the end of the year. He has served as sheriff since January 1999.

"Given my years in law enforcement and my age, I had always kind of thought that I'd retire after two terms," said Winger, 56.

He said he decided to announce his retirement early in the year to give potential sheriff candidates sufficient time to organize their campaigns.

"I know there are other candidates that want to run," he said. "I wanted to give them a chance to get cracking."

So far, three candidates have officially announced plans to run for the position. Beltrami County Deputy Bill Cross, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Special Agent Phil Hodapp and Beltrami County Sheriff's Office Investigator Brian Ball have all formally launched campaigns. The election for the four-year term will be held in November.


A graduate of the Alexandria Technical College law enforcement program, Winger has worked in law enforcement for 36 years. He began his career in 1970 as a deputy with the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office. In 1971, he became an officer with the Alexandria Police Department, where he worked for 20 years. He served as police chief in Warroad for three years before moving back to Bemidji in 1993 to work as a parole officer for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. He was elected sheriff in 1998 and took office in 1999.

"I have said that it's the best and most difficult job I've ever had," Winger said. "You really find yourself in a position to have influences on issues, but sometimes you have to make some really, really tough decisions."

During his tenure as sheriff, Winger has helped oversee the construction of the new Law Enforcement Center, the implementation of a new computer system, construction of a combined sheriff/police Law Enforcement Center in Blackduck and the remodeling of the jail to alleviate the problem of overcrowding.

As sheriff, he was also instrumental in hiring additional deputies to patrol the north end of the county and a full-time auto theft investigator. He said there are also plans to hire a full-time deputy to patrol snowmobile, ATV and water users.

Winger said that one of his biggest accomplishments as sheriff was organizing a group of volunteers to assist the sheriff's office with event security and prisoner transportation.

"Volunteers really perform a valuable service," Winger said. "They've saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and it has really gotten the community involved in law enforcement."

Winger is also actively involved with a number of boards and organizations. In 2005, he served as president of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association. In that role, he worked with lawmakers on public safety and law enforcement legislation.

Winger said he does not plan to endorse any of the candidates who are vying for his position, but added he hopes they will base their campaigns on matters of public safety rather than personal issues.


"The sheriff is elected by the public, so he has to be accountable to the citizens of the county," he said. "I hope the candidates who are running for sheriff understand that very well."

After his retirement becomes effective in January 2007, Winger plans to keep busy by renovating a resort he owns on Balm Lake and various other projects.

"I've really considered it an honor to serve as the sheriff," Winger said.

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