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New sheriff ready to take on drugs, mental health issues in Otter Tail County

Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons

New County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons, who will be sworn into office on Jan. 8, will be challenged with law enforcement and how it relates to drug usage and mental illness in Otter Tail County.

These issues also face county sheriffs and their deputies all across the state of Minnesota, and across the nation as well.

"Those of us in the sheriff's office here in Otter Tail County will be closely working with county human services employees when it comes to drug usage and mental health issues," said Fitzgibbons when meeting with area news media representatives Friday morning, Dec. 28, at the sheriff's office in Fergus Falls.

Fitzgibbons was elected sheriff on Nov. 6. He takes over from the retiring Brian Schlueter.

The new sheriff served the past two years as county sheriff chief deputy and has a total of 18 years of service with the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office.

Fitzgibbons mentioned on the fall 2018 campaign trail that he had budget responsibilities the past two years. He added that he was fortunate to receive additional training at the FBI National Academy in Virginia.

He will oversee sheriff operations in a county, Otter Tail, that is larger in size than the state of Rhode Island. In recent years a sheriff operations center was added in the community of Ottertail.

More and more people who are arrested and taken to the expanded county jail in Fergus Falls have chemical dependency and mental health issues.

Many county jails across the state of Minnesota, Otter Tail County included, also have major challenges related to long-term stays of inmates.

Some inmates charged with serious offenses can't afford bail. They oftentimes get bogged down with court proceedings, as well.

"We find that some people arrested and taken to the county jail are a danger to themselves and others," Fitzgibbons said. "We also need to ensure that they make their next court appearance."

County sheriffs all across the state, in recent months, have addressed the drug issues and mental health challenges with state legislators.

Here in Otter Tail County, sheriff office representatives and county human services employees have expressed their concerns and have made suggestions to State. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen and State Reps. Bud Nornes and Mary Fransen.

In recent months the state legislature appropriated $28.1 million for behavioral health crisis facilities across Minnesota. Funding provides for purchasing land and construction of facilities.

"These are good steps but more needs to be done," notes Fitzgibbons.

The new county sheriff adheres to the sheriff office mission statement.:

"We, the men and women of the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office, are dedicated to providing excellent service through partnerships that build trust, reduce crime, create a safe environment and enhance the quality of life in our county."

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