Independent Hennepin County Sheriff candidate Jai Hanson didn’t originally plan on a career in law enforcement. But after participating in ride-alongs in college and at the suggestion of his father, Hanson changed his major from business finance to communications and began his 14- plus-year career in law enforcement.
Hanson was born in India and came to Minneapolis when he was adopted at the age of two. His father is retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sam Hanson, and his mother Mirja Hanson worked as a state employee, an educator, and is a dedicated nonprofit community advocate. They instilled in him the importance of public service.
The MSR talked with Hanson to find out more about his experience and his candidacy for Hennepin County Sheriff.
MSR: What is your day-to-day like in your current role, and how has it helped you reimagine the criminal justice system?
JH: I am the candidate in this race that has the most frontline experience. Whether responding to 911 calls or responding to calls for service, having that interaction with the community on a day-to-day basis really helps shape my view of what’s going on from the ground level, and what needs to be done.
Currently, I am assigned to a specialty unit for the Bloomington Police Department, which includes the Mall of America, the 494 corridor, and the businesses around the mall. It keeps us pretty active and busy.
I am very proud of that frontline experience. Three weeks ago, I pulled a loaded handgun off a 15-year-old at the mall. My experience keeps me sharp and keeps me aware of problems that are going on in our community and on our streets.
MSR: What type of work have you done this past year to investigate ways of improving the correctional system?
JH: Running for sheriff has been professionally one of the most humbling and honoring experiences. In meeting the people I’ve been able to meet, hearing their stories, and hearing people say they haven’t been heard in the public safety system.
It’s something that really inspires me to get involved. I’ve continually heard that victims are getting re-victimized by the system. They don’t have advocates. So [I am] talking to the community and talking to people that live in Hennepin County to find out what they want in their policing.
Also, [I am] talking to police chiefs and police officers to see what is their view and their vision of what policing looks like. I don’t believe the media narrative that the gap is as big as the media is saying or portraying. I think both sides—the police, law enforcement, and the community—want reform. They want the police, but they want good police officers and they want police officers that are committed to their community.
It’s what’s preparing me for this position in addition to responding to domestics and calls for service, in situations where people are in crisis and the worst spot in their life. Those are the times where we need to shine and help them.
MSR: What are your goals when/if elected to this position?
JH: One of my first initiatives is I want to have a satellite office in North Minneapolis where I would be based. The reason for that is because I believe North Minneapolis has been abandoned by politicians and public safety equally. If you look at any crime maps, it will show that North Minneapolis has a big red dot over it. Making North Minneapolis safe makes our whole city safe, and that’s why it’s a priority to me.
Number two, we need to have more targeted enforcement units. The Sheriff’s Office needs to be more involved in that. Right now the Sheriff’s Office stays in their lane when it comes to their State-mandated state statute, as far as water patrol, the courts and the jail.
In other parts of the country, the Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency for the county. They have more of a patrol function as well. We need more deputies that are in front-line positions, where we can send them to communities that need help from law enforcement.
I’m running as an independent. This is a non-partisan office. To get public safety accomplished for all citizens, we need to keep this a non-partisan office. I want to make sure we do this the right way and put citizens first. This is about public safety.
MSR: What does accountability look like to you?
JH: Accountability and trust go hand in hand. What accountability looks like for me is what I have been doing in my career. After George Floyd, I was quick to go on to social media and say what I saw was horrible and that officers should be held accountable for their actions in the murder of George Floyd.
We need to be quick to call out the bad that we see in this profession. Nobody dislikes bad cops more than good cops. That being said, you build accountability through transparency. But also, we need to champion good cops.
One of our biggest challenges is recruiting and retention. If we don’t start supporting our law enforcement, we’re not going to have the right candidates entering this profession. We will be in the same cycle down the road. Accountability is being quick and decisive when it comes to removing someone from the force.
We need to have face-to-face interactions so that the community understands what law enforcement is going through and law enforcement better understands the community.
MSR: What place do the police have in the community, and what are your thoughts on the calls to defund the police?
JH: Police play a vital role in our community, not only in the enforcement role, to make sure people are safe. They are a frontline for resources for people in the community. We need our police and we need good police.
As far as the second part of the question, absolutely not. We have a very hard time with recruiting and retention. I’ve seen officers with five to seven years of experience who should be in the middle of their careers leaving their jobs without even having another position.
It’s just a family decision they’ve made to no longer be a cop because of what’s been going on in the community. I have been very vocal about not defunding our police. And I’ve been very vocal about supporting our police.
MSR: Are you looking into recruitment options from the community directly?
JH: Yes. One of the things we can implement if you look at my website is Cop Houses, which was designed by the Department of Justice. What it entails is buying foreclosed properties in high-crime areas.
I’d like to purchase a number of these within walking distance of schools and partner with the private sector for donations and volunteers to fix up the houses. What it entails is basically having it be a community gathering spot within the neighborhood.
It allows kids to go there after school. We can have them staffed at high volume times with volunteers to help out with tutoring, interview skills—services they may not have at home.
And what makes me excited about doing this on the county level is we can partner with other county agencies, whether that be public health or social work or things that we can bring together and utilize all our county options and resources available to our citizens.
Also, [I support] doing that with recruiting. I want to bring back the explorer program. Get these kids involved in law enforcement when they’re 14, 15 and 16, and teach them that this is a noble profession and good career.
When they’re 18 years old, we’d get them into a cadet program at the Sheriff’s Office. We’d pay for their two-year college degree and get post-certified. In return, they’d commit to two years at the Sheriff’s Office.
In that way, you would begin to have law enforcement that reflects what the communities look like.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. To learn more about Jai Hanson’s candidacy for Hennepin County Sheriff, visit www.jai4sheriff.com.