By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons is running for reelection to a four-year term. He is opposed by Joey Geiszler, a Fergus Falls police officer.

Fitzgibbons has more than 22 years of service with the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office, including 19 years of supervisory experience which have included patrol sergeant, patrol lieutenant, administrative lieutenant, chief deputy and finishing up his first term as sheriff.

Since 2010, Geiszler has been a training officer, detective, and special agent with the drug and violent crime task force. He currently is on patrol after coming out of the task force in 2016. Geiszler also emphasizes his military experience.

Each candidate will refer to more of their personal work histories in the information that follows. They were asked to comment about why they are running, law enforcement challenges and ways the Sheriff Department can work for the betterment of Otter Tail County residents.

Barry Fitzgibbons

Barry Fitzgibbons

Sheriff Fitzgibbons says that law enforcement across the nation continues to respond to calls of those in a mental health/chemical dependency crisis.

“To ensure the highest chance for a positive outcome, I have implemented different programs to address this issue here in Otter Tail County,” Fitzgibbons said.

One program he has implemented involves partnering with human services, what he refers to as an early intervention program. 

“This program is designed to get those suffering from mental health problems or chemical dependency issues in touch with services prior to being involved with the criminal justice system,” he said. “The idea behind the program is to get those in crisis in touch with human services who can assist in identifying services before a person ends up getting charged with a criminal offense.”

Sheriff deputies can refer a person to human services when contact is made with a person with mental health issues or a chemical dependency issue. 

“If we can get a person in touch with a service provider before they end up in jail, that is the goal,” Fitzgibbons said.

Another program that has been implemented is the jail social worker position. There is now a social worker that is dedicated to the detention center that focuses on those who are incarcerated. 

“The goal is to increase success while incarcerated as well as once released,” Fitzgibbons said. “The social worker can work with the inmate on mental health and chemical dependency services, employment, housing and many other services.”

Another program implemented by Fitzgibbons is mental health wellness for staff of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to the county offered employee assistance program (EAP), Fitzgibbons hired a police and public safety psychologist to meet with staff as part of a mental health wellness program. 

“The program allows staff to meet with the psychologist in a confidential/anonymous setting,” said. “The meetings are voluntary and are meant as a resource for staff.”

  In addition to addressing mental health, Sheriff Fitzgibbons said he will continue to ensure that all staff have the training and equipment to provide the best public safety services possible regardless of the situation.

He says that mental health and chemical dependency issues continue to require a significant amount of response from the Sheriff’s Office. 

“Many people are struggling today and so often, mental health and chemical dependency are contributing factors,” Fitzgibbons said. “There may be times when law enforcement must respond due to public safety concerns. Each situation is evaluated to determine appropriate response.”

At times, law enforcement response is required due to public safety concerns and there are times that they work with mobile mental health as needed. 

“To obtain the best possible outcome, our staff are trained in crisis intervention, conflict management and de-escalation,” Fitzgibbons said. “Officers are also required to receive training to better relate and understand people with Autism. We will continue to seek training and equipment to better respond to those in crisis.”

Fitzgibbons pledges to, if reelected, ensure that all staff have the training and resources to respond appropriately and efficiently when called. 

“I have made traffic safety a priority,” he said. “Too many people are seriously injured or killed on our roadways. Staff are trained in detecting those who are impaired while driving.”

Fitzgibbons said that in his 22 years with the Sheriff’s Office, he has had many different opportunities to expand his training and experience. Included is more 15 years of SWAT experience. 

“My time on the SWAT team included being an operator, assistant team leader, team leader, assistant commander and commander. I also have more than 16 years on the public safety dive team as a public safety diver. While I am not a current active diver, I train regularly with the dive team.”

Fitzgibbons has supervised the patrol division to include K9, investigation division, court security, dispatch center, SWAT team, Dive Team, Posse unit, Water Patrol and Drug task force.  

  “I will use my training and experience to ensure that all staff of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office have the training and resources to respond to whatever we are called to. I will continue to hold all staff to a high standard and follow the core values of our mission statement: Integrity, Respect, Fairness and Excellence.” 

Joey Geiszler

Joey Geiszler

Joey Geiszler, a Fergus Falls police officer, says that if he is elected county sheriff he will be connected with the people in all the communities and be transparent with the people of Otter Tail County.

Geiszler takes pride in membership with the Minnesota law enforcement memorial association. He also is ordained and brings that up because he presided at weddings this year of people he has arrested in the past. 

“I have seen change in their lives and have helped them along their new path,” he said. “I am committed to helping our broken people change their ways and I will be involved personally in their lives to see that it happens.”

He served with the United States Army Reserve in Military Intelligence, attended Military Intelligence School at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. 

On his agenda, if elected county sheriff, is combating the mental health issues. Included are those dealing with mental health induced by controlled substances such as drugs and alcohol. 

“This has been and still is the main challenge in Otter Tail County,” he says. “We need to evolve from status quo approach that is going on. Being involved and bringing people back to a morally correct path is a challenge I accept on my plate.”

Geiszler says the issues will be taken on from multiple angles and chip away at the problem that we have let get out of hand. 

“We need to target unchecked trauma that people have that continues to go unchecked and leads to chemical abuse and other issues. I’m working with multiple organizations and people to come together to have an outside the box solution implemented.”

He says county residents can fix issues “that affects us in all aspects of society if we get involved as communities.” 

Geiszler says that violent offenders and those bringing drugs into our county ruining lives of families should get sentences appropriate for their crimes, so they can get the morale and/or mental help needed and stop the revolving door for them to commit the same crime.

“If our attorneys or judges cannot get this done then our legislation should let the jurors decide the outcome. The jurors live in the communities that offenders impact and they should have a say on their community safety,” he said. 

Geiszler said he will work with those who make bad decisions and who have morally learned from their mistakes. “I will help them assimilate back into society through different programs I work with outside of jail.” 

The sheriff office candidate also points to the lack of people who want to step up and become peace officers. 

“PTSD daily events can have current peace officers dealing with their own issues. I will have a mental health program to allow for time off for employees to deescalate and escape the stressors of the job.”

Geiszler said he will use his platform as county sheriff to be a voice for those who feel they don’t have one. 

“I will stand up for all against injustices,” he said. “We need to bring awareness and education to the public to address this issue.” 

Geiszler says his primary focus is to uphold the constitutional oath he has sworn to keep. 

“I will make sure people’s rights are not infringed upon from any government over reach. The people have a right to be secure in their life, liberty and property.  I will be leading from within and amongst the people and not be looking at anyone as if they are beneath me.”

He adds, “We are stronger when we are together and when we are together we can conquer anything in our path. Because, Together We Stand.”