Hennepin County sheriff serves as criminal justice studies faculty at Inver Hills
The Inver Hills Community College 2023 Commencement Ceremony is featuring Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt as the event’s keynote speaker. The ceremony takes place Thursday, May 11, at 7 p.m. at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood, Minnesota.
Sheriff Witt serves as faculty in the college’s Criminal Justice Transfer Pathway A.S. program, which offers students the opportunity to transfer with junior-year status to designated, criminal justice-related bachelor’s degree programs at Minnesota State universities. Coursework prepares students for careers in a variety of criminal justice fields, including security, policing, courts, corrections, rehabilitation, crime prevention, juvenile justice, and victim advocacy.
Sheriff Dawanna Witt • Q & A
What do you enjoy most about teaching at Inver Hills?
What I enjoy most is having the opportunity to educate students using the many lenses that are needed when entering any job in public service. I also enjoy learning from my students.
What inspired you to build a career in law enforcement?
To be honest, I had no idea that I would be in this field. While working for nonprofit organization with families with chemical health issues and child protection cases, I went on a tour at the Hennepin County Jail, where I learned they were trying to recruit more women and people of color. Coming from a background of being afraid and not trusting law enforcement, I felt this was different because, to me, the men and women in corrections were not the same as the people I saw at my home or in my neighborhood.
While working in the jail, I was put in the position in which I had to interact with law enforcement quite a bit. In doing so, I was able to learn about the person behind the badge. It was from that moment that my barriers began to fall, and I decided I was going to be that person in law enforcement I wanted to see when I was a child. I always had a strong desire to help people in need and that is still what inspires me today.
What advice would you give students considering careers in law enforcement or corrections?
There are many opportunities in law enforcement and corrections. Both professions give you the opportunity to make a positive difference in lives of those who work for you, those who walk through our doors at one of the lowest points in their lives, and those within the community.
One of the best feelings in the world is to help people, so remember why you chose this work throughout the entirety of your career, as there will be days you will question why you chose this line of work.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job as Hennepin County Sheriff?
Rewarding: Helping people. I can never get enough of knowing that I can help people every day!
Challenging: Work/life balance. Hennepin County is a big and busy county that requires a lot of time and attention, particularly over the past three years. I took on the responsibility of sheriff because I truly do care about people and public safety.
“Teaching and learning are lifelong.”
Sheriff Dawanna Witt
Criminal Justice Studies Faculty
Inver Hills Community College
Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna S. Witt: Official Bio
Dawanna S. Witt was elected as the Hennepin County Sheriff on November 8, 2022. She was sworn in and took office on Tuesday, January 3, 2023. She is the first woman and person of color to hold the office.
Born in Chicago and raised in Minneapolis, Sheriff Witt became a mother at 15 but nevertheless excelled at school. She earned several scholarships to college, including the Justice Alan Page Scholarship. As a condition of that scholarship, she volunteered in several community organizations in various roles and saw firsthand how her actions could make a positive difference in the lives of young people. Her passion for working with kids remains to this day.
In college, Sheriff Witt studied chemical dependency and family therapy and her first jobs were in the nonprofit field. When she heard that the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office was looking for female detention deputies, specifically women of color, she decided to apply, and was hired in 1999. Working as a detention deputy opened her eyes to the people and possibilities in law enforcement.
In 2004, after returning to school to become a licensed peace officer, Sheriff Witt was hired by the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. During her career at Dakota County, she worked in a variety of roles, including bailiff, transport, school resource officer, detective, crisis negotiator, recruitment coordinator, diversity and inclusion coordinator, and more. Ultimately, she became the first woman in the agency’s history to reach the rank of captain. Through it all, she focused on reaching out to young people and communities that have historically had poor relationships with the police. During her time as a school resource officer, working with children with mental health and behavioral difficulties, the school experienced a noticeable drop in kids entering the juvenile justice system.
While working at Dakota County, Sheriff Witt earned a police science degree, and followed that up with dual master’s degrees in public safety administration and management, which included an internship with the Northamptonshire Police in the UK.
Sheriff Witt returned to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in September 2019 to take charge of the agency’s largest bureau, Adult Detention and Court Services. In her role as a major, she oversaw court security for two of the most high-profile trials in modern history. She also dealt successfully with the pandemic in Minnesota’s largest jail, leading the development of new protocols to help limit institutional and community spread of COVID-19.
In 2022, Hennepin County voters overwhelming selected her to be the next Hennepin County Sheriff. She campaigned on her years of experience and a platform of safer communities, improved law enforcement recruitment and retention, reform, collaboration, and transparency.
Sheriff Witt is married with two adult daughters and two grandchildren. She also works as an adjunct professor at Inver Hills Community College, teaching Juvenile Justice and American Corrections. She serves seasonally as a Minnesota State Fair Police Officer and has served on advisory panels including the State of Minnesota Legislative Task Force on Child Protection and the State of Minnesota Task Force on Law Enforcement Education Reform.