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More city officers move to sheriff's office

Chief Deputy Scott Parks, at left, and Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes are gradually staffing the department with city police officers. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

A third Park Rapids police officer will be joining the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department this spring as more officers leave the city squad.

Former K-9 officer Dan Kruchowski has accepted a position with the county.

In approving the hire, county board members said Wednesday, "The city's gonna hate us."

Sheriff Cory Aukes first hired long-time officer Scott Parks as his chief deputy after the election.

Then the department, which has been chronically short-staffed lately, hired officer Dan May to fill a vacancy.

Kruchowski is the latest to join what county commissioner Lyle Robinson refers to as "the A-Team."

Kruchowski temporarily took the county's K-9 Vulcan last month when the dog's handler, Jeremiah Johnson, was terminated.

Aukes said the dog is doing well with Kruchowski but no decision has been made as to whether the new officer will assume the K-9 role for the county or if Vulcan will continue to be a member of the force.

For one, Kruchowski still has the retired police canine, Pax.

The two dogs aren't getting along too well, Aukes said. Each is trained as the ultimate alpha dog and they become very territorial, he said. But Vulcan is adapting to Kruchowski very well otherwise, Aukes said.

Johnson has recently filed a grievance to regain his employment and while that is pending, the department will make no decisions regarding a K-9 program or another officer, Aukes said.

He asked the board to table discussions of those issues Wednesday.

Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers said it's tough to compete with the county pay scale and benefits, so he understands why his officers have made their moves. Both May and Kruchowski are being paid at elevated step levels in Hubbard County so they don't have to take pay cuts. Kruchowski begins May 5.

Aukes is thrilled. At a time when his manpower shortage is critical, he said filling the vacancies with trained officers has allowed them to step right into the job and save the county the money to train them.

"I've gotten three really good guys," he said.

Meanwhile Eilers is looking to fill his roster with part-time county dispatcher/jailers who want road experience and are licensed peace officers.

The board also sent well wishes to Hubbard County Sgt. Mark Krossen, who left April 19 after 15 years. He has been off duty for months suffering from back problems.

Dep. Jimmy Burgoon also is retiring the end of April after 28 years with the county.

The youthful looking Burgoon said this winter the job "is a young man's job" and he was beginning to feel like a dinosaur in the roster.

Aukes praised Burgoon as a good deputy and mentor for the younger officers.

Parks said Krossen's position as sergeant will be filled eventually when the department is fully staffed. Until then, he said the priorities are to get full-timers on board, which will reduce the county's reliance on part-time officers and paying overtime.

In another development Wednesday, dispatcher/jailer Lana O'Bannon, who is facing three felony charges in connection with the theft of funds from her ex-husband's bank account, has been terminated after an internal investigation.

O'Bannon was placed on paid administrative leave in mid-March after the criminal complaint was served on her.

Aukes said the internal investigation was independent of the criminal investigation, which was conducted by Becker County authorities.

Both O'Bannon and Johnson are "no longer in pay status, however a final disposition has not been made regarding the previously disclosed complaint(s)," e-mailed coordinator Deb Thompson without addressing the grievance, complaints or termination.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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