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Long-time jail administrator locks up career

Even after 33 years, Steve Sibell looked forward to work on his last day just as much as he did on his first. This past Wednesday - his last day - Douglas County's long-time jail administrator retired. "I've been proud to serve the citizens of Do...

Even after 33 years, Steve Sibell looked forward to work on his last day just as much as he did on his first.

This past Wednesday - his last day - Douglas County's long-time jail administrator retired.

"I've been proud to serve the citizens of Douglas County," Sibell said during an interview that day. "That's what it's about."

Sibell began his law enforcement career here in 1975 as a posse member under former sheriff Norm Salto (current District 2 county commissioner). Nine years later, Sibell was hired part-time as a road deputy. In 1986, he transferred to a full-time jailer; he was promoted to jail administrator in 1989.

Thousands of hours of posse work and ride-alongs with former sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen - someone he looks to as a brother - were influential in Sibell's law enforcement career.

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During his tenure, he's seen it all - department growth, technology advancements, types of prisoners, new facilities - changes he likened to upgrading from a Model A to a brand new car.

The early years had about 20 deputies sharing squad cars that had well over 100,000 miles on them. "There were days that we came to the office and you were lucky that there was gas in the tank," Sibell said, adding that deputies also purchased their own uniforms.

Deputies no longer wait several minutes for the state to run a license plate check during a routine stop; it now pops up in seconds, thanks to in-car laptops.

"It's much safer for the deputies. It's just phenomenal," Sibell said about the technology advances.

He hopes the county keeps up with it. "We need that here in order to do an efficient job for the public."

Prisoner types have also shifted from those who abuse alcohol to those who abuse methamphetamine.

Many also have mental health issues, and because treatment facilities have closed, "We find ourselves having to be mental health experts," Sibell said. "We're missing these folks who shouldn't really be classified as jail. It makes our situation more dangerous in the fact that they can be more volatile."

Compounding that is an inadequate jail facility, which is nearing the end of its useful life (the Minnesota Department of Corrections will "sunset" the 1978 jail in 2009 if steps are not taken to significantly upgrade it or build brand new).

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"We need to move forward with this jail project, and we need to get it accomplished," Sibell said, adding that, above all, it's about the safety of the staff.

Sibell was just getting a taste for law enforcement as a posse member when Deputy Curt Felt was killed in the line of duty during a routine inmate transport in 1978 - an event that "profoundly" affected him.

"I do not want to see another Curt Felt incident. We owe that to our people," he said. "I'm not going to dedicate my life to a career like this to sit back and watch tragedies happen that could be prevented."

Thanks to an exceptional staff, however, he feels this is a safe community in which to live. "That doesn't happen by accident. The crew as a whole are very dedicated, hard-working people who care about the [residents]," Sibell said. "I want to see that continue."

And it's that crew he's going to miss the most. "The camaraderie, in law enforcement especially, becomes a second family to you. It's been a good run," he reflected.

He hopes the staff continues to hold the badge high and with respect. "The uniform, the badge that we wear, very few of us get to do that," he said.

During retirement, Sibell plans to keep busy between time with his wife, Lynn, serving on the Evansville School Board and his church board, and raising and showing Saler cattle.

He's also exploring the possibility of furthering his county service - an opportunity he looks forward to.

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