Book on sheriff’s office history debuts at open house

While a Sept. 18 open house will give residents a glimpse at how the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office fights crime today, they can now read about how this law enforcement agency has evolved over the past 153 years.

Vickie Wendell of the Anoka County Historical Society wrote “Keepers of the County: Crime and the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office” to document the history of the sheriff’s office from 1857 to the present day. The book will debut next Wednesday, Sept. 18 at the 4 to 7 p.m. sheriff’s office open house.
Vickie Wendel of the Anoka County Historical Society wrote “Keepers of the County: Crime and the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office” to document the history of the sheriff’s office from 1857 to the present day. The book will debut next Wednesday, Sept. 18 at the 4 to 7 p.m. sheriff’s office open house. Photo by Eric Hagen

Vickie Wendel, a program manager at the Anoka County History Center, recently completed a book titled, “Keepers of the County: Crime and the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office” that will debut at the open house and will be on sale at the Anoka County Historical Society, 2135 Third Avenue North, in Anoka. Call Wendel at 763-421-0600 or email [email protected] for more information.

“Until this project, I didn’t realize that ours was the first in the nation to do some of this very cutting edge kind of things and people come here to copy us,” Wendel said.

One thing that stood out to Wendel was the sheriff’s office winning national awards for pioneering joint powers agreements and mutual aid agreements so that officers could cross jurisdictional boundaries and not lose liability insurance or workers compensation eligibility in case they got in an accident in this other community.

Once a month, the sheriff’s office meets with all local police department leaders to discuss trends and how to do a better job.

For getting started on the book, Wendel gives a lot of credit to Harold “Buzz” Netkow, who is retired from the sheriff’s office, for reading through 150 years of newspapers to index every crime article.

Wendel herself combed through Anoka County Board minutes, records at the sheriff’s office and talked to dozens of people who helped shape the sheriff’s office into what it is today to tell the story.

Although then-Chief Deputy Loni Payne on behalf of then-Sheriff Bruce Andersohn asked Wendel to work on this book over three years ago, Wendel was given access to pretty much any records she wanted besides confidential personnel records and she did not skip controversial topics that arose.

Bernice Peterson in 1978 got her picture in the paper as the first female road deputy hired by Anoka County, but she had to fight to get Ralph “Buster” Talbot to appoint her to this post, Wendel found out.

Wendell included a 1992 editorial that James McCabe wrote demanding an apology from the sheriff’s office for his great grandfather Richard McCabe Leahy being sentenced for an 1875 murder. Richard was later pardoned, but James said his family was still being affected by this over 100 years later.

“I just hope that when officers read it, they see it as a chronicle of how things have developed and how they have changed and how we’ve gotten to where we are and not to focus on the fact that in the 20s it was OK to shoot first and ask questions later,” Wendel said. “It’s telling their history, but I hope they see it as having been done with respect. This is what history has documented and I tried to document history.”

Wendel has told the sheriff’s office story in chronological order and found stories that went beyond the numbers.

Sheriff Mike Auspos and his staff outside the Anoka County Courthouse in 1953.
Sheriff Mike Auspos and his staff outside the Anoka County Courthouse in 1953. Submitted photo

The city of Anoka had its own town marshal by 1870, but everywhere else in the county was farmland and the sheriff covered the rest of the county. The sheriff was part time until just before the 1900s and deputies were not formally hired on a full-time basis until the 1930s or 1940s.

Anoka County outlawed alcohol four-and-a-half years before the national prohibition law was passed, so the sheriff’s office was already busting bootleggers before the nation followed suit.

Anoka County holds the record for the largest booze bust in Minnesota. In 1927 at the Pete Peterson farm in Columbus Township, authorities confiscated seven large vats that were six feet tall and nine feet in diameter for distilling alcohol. There were also four other large steam boilers used for the distilling process.

“It took 11 truckloads to get it to Anoka and that was the largest moonshine factory ever captured in the state, according to the newspaper, and it beat out the previous record that had been held by Ramsey Township,” Wendel said.

When America was involved in World War I, the sheriff’s office was in charge of teaching classes on spotting and identifying enemy aircraft because there was military manufacturing in the area that could have been a target.

Every eligible man had to enlist in the military and carry a draft card and law enforcement was in charge of making sure they followed through. Wendel read stories about how Sheriff Uriah Pratt would bring his “posse” of deputies to a bar on a Saturday night where they were having a dance and arrest any man who did not have a draft card.

When the Great Depression occurred, Wendel read about more theft because people were trying to feed their families.

Catching speeders, even the fast horse and buggy drivers before cars were around, was an important task for the sheriff’s office, Wendel said. Pratt hired a couple of deputies in the 1920s because they had motorcycles and could patrol from Anoka to Elk River what today is Highway 169 and Highway 10.

Records were difficult to find until the late 1960s because there was no requirement to keep them accessible to the public. Anything prior to the late 1920s was stored in an old jail cell in the courthouse, but water damage destroyed these records.

Some sheriffs, including Mike Auspos, kept a pocket notebook that cannot be found.

As the county population started booming in the 1950s, the sheriff’s office had to keep growing and change the way it operated to be able to protect more people.

Wendel said the late County Attorney R.W. Johnson and Sheriff Talbot were key people in this historically significant time.

Deputies first started to be consistently trained and licensed and covered by the department’s liability insurance. The joint powers agreements between the sheriff’s office and the communities it would cover and mutual aid agreements with cities that had their own police departments were being drafted, Wendel said.

The county had to address that there were many young families moving into the area. Wendel, whose family moved to Blaine when she was 10 years old, remembers hearing about deputies busting field parties.

“The times were demanding the change, but we had the right people in the right places to really meet the challenges of those times,” Wendel said. “They are just legendary. They set standards that are followed still today not just in our county, but across the state and sometimes even across the nation.”

According to Wendel, it was very rewarding to write this book because she learned a lot about the history of the county and its law enforcement agency and she made new acquaintances.

“I’m really glad I did because I learned an incredible amount about county history, about police work about police work and people in general,” Wendel said. “It was very rewarding to do the book. I gained tremendously from it.”


Eric Hagen is at
[email protected]


Anoka County Sheriff’s Office open house

Wednesday, Sept. 18 (4-7 p.m.) 13301 Hanson Blvd. NW, Andover

• Tours of sheriff’s office

• Specialty vehicles from the SWAT team, dive team, crime scene unit and training unit

• Free child fingerprinting

• Vickie Wendel debuting and signing new book ($30.95 plus tax)

Food and cash donations for food shelf being accepted