After taking a few punches during a run-in with locals at a bar in Tyler, Minn., Russ Monson wasn’t sure law enforcement was the career for him. But after using the incident as a learning experience, Monson is happy he stayed with his career choice.
Monson, who was appointed Isanti County Sheriff May 1, 2009, by the Isanti County Board of Commissioners and elected sheriff in November 2010, will retire April 30. He spent 28 years in law enforcement.
Monson began as a deputy with the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department in 1995. He was as sergeant for six years and a chief deputy for six years prior to becoming sheriff.
“I became interested in law enforcement because I really wanted to help people and make a difference,” Monson said. “I liked dealing with the ‘law and order’ of things and wanted to be involved in something positive.”
Monson began his career in Tyler, Minn., at the age of 23.
“I remember the first ticket I wrote was to a catholic priest for speeding,” Monson said. “I couldn’t believe I was writing a ticket to a catholic priest, but he was speeding, and I wanted to treat everyone equally.
“I also remember one of my earlier calls involved responding to a bar fight. There was a big party bus, and I was able to find the leader of the pack. I was outside talking to him when all of a sudden the group started forming a circle around me and beat me up pretty good. Luckily, the chief was listening to the scanner and came and rescued me. I realized a couple of things from that experience: first never mess with someone who has a black belt in karate, and secondly, enforcing the law isn’t just a black and white issue. You can’t walk into a situation with your gun and your badge and just expect everyone to listen. You truly have to become a part of the community, and that bar fight was truly a learning experience for me,” Monson added.
Monson feels bad he’s retiring after being elected to serve as sheriff until the end of 2014 but has been battling arthritis.
“I’ve been battling arthritis for a while, and I have my good days and my bad days but feel it’s time to go,” Monson said. “Twenty-eight years is a long time in law enforcement, and I feel badly I’m not finishing out my term, but this arthritis is an issue for me, and I feel it’s time. I want to enjoy retirement as much as I can even though I have no specific plans. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family and grandchildren and camping.”
Isanti County Chief Deputy Bill Guenther will become sheriff May 1 after being appointed by the Isanti County Board of Commissioners. Guenther will serve as sheriff until the next election in November 2014.
“I believe Russ did a great job as sheriff,” Guenther said. “He was instrumental in bringing our office up to speed with modern technology. We also had some good people hired on during his supervisory time here. He was also not afraid to deal with the sometimes difficult issues that a boss has to deal with. I enjoyed working for Russ. He always told me that I made his job a lot easier. I appreciated the fact that he trusted me with the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office, and I learned a lot about how the office is run from an administrative standpoint. It is quite a challenge, and I was allowed to work with him to meet these challenges.”
Guenther was Monson’s field training officer for six to eight weeks after Monson was hired in 1995.
“He was quite a talker and an excellent communicator,” Guenther said. “One of the field training techniques we used was to have the employee just talk about a random topic for about five minutes. Needless to say, Russ excelled at this. His driving technique in high-speed curves needed some work. … He will know what I am talking about on that one.”
Monson felt he had a smooth transition into the role of sheriff due to the legacy left by former sheriff, Mike Ammend, who passed away July 20, 2012.
“Mike Ammend taught me a lot about being a great leader, and he was a great friend and mentor,” Monson said. “He focused on training and professionalism and provided us with as much equipment as he could. Mike left me with a professional group of law enforcement officers who have high standards. We really do have impressive employees in this office.”
During his tenure, Monson had good working relationships with the cities in Isanti County.
“I have known and worked with Russ Monson since he came to Isanti County working with the sheriff’s department,” said Braham Police Chief Robert Knowles. “The whole time I have worked with Russ I have found him to be honest, knowledgeable and easy to get along with. I always have felt I can talk to him about a matter and he never talked down to me or treated me with disrespect. I have enjoyed his spirit of working with other departments and not showing a spirit of ‘This is my sandbox and no one else can play’ that is often seen within this profession. I will miss working with him.”
Investigator Rob Bowker has worked with Monson since he joined the department as a jailer in 1996 and was promoted to investigator in 2003.
“Russ asked one thing of us: ‘Do your job, and do it with pride,’” Bowker said. “Russ was easy to talk with, he understood his employees, he wanted the public to see us as professionals and expected us to treat them with respect. I truly believe that Russ and former Sheriff Mike Ammend were instrumental in bringing us into the 21st century. Russ wanted us to have computers in the cars, which would decrease the amount of work dispatchers had to do, and it was a great success. The next big thing was video cameras, another innovation that made court time decrease for deputies and more convictions.
“Sheriff Monson took this department to the next level. He hired good personnel and changed the way the public perceives our department. I feel the community has benefited greatly with him in office. He made time for people and was very involved in a lot of civic groups. He will be missed and we are a better department today with everything that he has given,” Bowker added.
Isanti County Jail Administrator Dennis Valentyn valued Monson’s listening skills.
“I didn’t have any problems working for Russ, and if I had a question about doing or implementing something, he would listen and give his input but would let me make the decision in most cases,” Valentyn said. “I think he treated people fine — whether it was the public or staff members — and we would joke back and forth and try to make every day enjoyable.”
Technology was a big part of Monson’s tenure.
“I have worked with Sheriff Monson in some capacity for 15 years, and during my time working for Sheriff Monson he was very focused on technology,” Isanti County Sgt. Chris Caulk said. “One of the things he directed me to do upon my promotion to sergeant was to oversee the implementation of the ARMER radio system. Sheriff Monson understood and saw that there was an urgent need for a new and upgraded radio communications system. He realized that technology can make us operate safer and more efficiently. So technology that was implemented under his time was video cameras in squads, ARMER and NG 911. I know Sheriff Monson always promoted new technology and expected that we all be part of the team as the technology was implemented.
“Sheriff Monson also encouraged the team approach in our jobs. I know he always expected and wanted involvement in the community and always encouraged community programs. He wanted and encouraged our staff to always be out and working with the community we serve,” Caulk added.
County Administrator Kevin VanHooser has worked with Monson in some capacity since he started with Isanti County in 1995.
“If public servant is defined as one who labors for the public good, then Russ is a model public servant,” VanHooser said. “As sheriff, Russ has been a leader who is respectful of his colleagues and his staff. The County Board has appreciated how accountable and dependable he has been in carrying out his duties. One attribute I admire most is that Russ assisted his staff in achieving their maximum potential. He provided opportunities for his staff to become leaders themselves. And most importantly, as much as Russ values public service, he values family even more. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Sheriff Monson.”
Monson will miss his colleagues the most.
“I will miss the people and the job,” Monson said. “I love the idea that the citizens of Isanti County elected me as their sheriff, and I’m excited, as well as sad, that my law enforcement career is coming to an end. This has been an incredible career for me and I’ve worked with wonderful people from all different cities, as well as county departments. Isanti County truly has a dedicated group of people working for them.”
Monson appreciates the faith and trust Isanti County residents put in him.
“I would like to thank all the citizens because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” Monson said. “They gave me this job, which was a very humbling experience and I owe the community so much. This community has been good to my wife Sue and I, as well as our entire family.”
Monson is content with retiring, knowing the department will be left in good hands.
“Bill [Guenther] is an incredible person and an amazing law enforcement officer,” Monson said. “My job would have been a lot harder without him as my chief deputy. He’s very well respected in the office, he’s well liked and is a great person. He’s hard working and dedicated, and the citizens of Isanti County will be pleased to have him as its next sheriff.”
Monson said he’s had a good law enforcement career.
“I’ve been able to do a lot of different things during my career in law enforcement,” Monson said. “I’m seen some very bad things happen, but also some very good things. I like the idea that maybe, in someway, I’ve been able to help someone or change someone’s life. I feel I’ve kept this community safe, and that’s a really good feeling.
“I would like to thank every one that I’ve worked with, and have appreciated each and every one of you. From the county departments to all the other law enforcement agencies, we have formed some great relationships and truly have dedicated individuals working around us. I would also like to thank the Isanti County Board of Commissioners for always supporting the sheriff’s office and doing the best they can for us.”