Following nearly 2 decades of stability, changeover comes to top ranks of St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office

Undersheriff Dave Phillips is retiring, handing over the reins of Deputy Sheriff’s Office to Superintendent Jason Lukovsky.

“I’m leaving this job with no complaints,” said 60-year-old Phillips. “It suited me well and I hope I did well in the county.”

Both men were chosen by Sheriff Ross Litman, but in different ways.

Litman was newly elected in 2002 and conducted a rigorous internal search for at least half a dozen candidates that required expressions of interest and a full panel interview.

“I was new then,” said Litman. “But arguably the best decision I’ve ever made was to hire or promote Dave Phillips to undersheriff.”

The 49-year-old Lukovsky’s decision to replace Phillips after serving 18 years was easier, Litman explained. Now, in his fifth and final tenure as sheriff, Litman has handpicked Lukovsky, a man he has already promoted four times.

“He has widespread respect and all of the world’s potential shown over the years in all of the positions he has held in this office,” said Litman.

This week, the News Tribune sat down with Phillips and Lukovsky to discuss the move, policing challenges, and the next horizon in the St. Louis County’s 260-strong Sheriff’s Office: the addition of body cameras to their deputies.

St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])

Phillips believes that body cameras will hit the market later this year, detailing technical details and setting money aside. One of the problems was the management of the public data uncovered by the surveillance. Data requests have skyrocketed in the age of body and patrol car dashboard cameras the county is already using.

“We have got to the point where we are very ready to go in that direction,” said Phillips. “It adds a level of transparency that the public is really looking for.”

Also MPs, Lukovsky said, describing how the footage often confirms law enforcement actions.

“I have no doubt that 95% of our people want them,” said Lukovsky.

Lukovsky’s colleagues, once captain of the University of Minnesota Duluth baseball team, described the 22-year-old veteran as a tenacious investigator who once helped solve a 12-year-old cold case that killed Trina Langenbrunner on September 3, 2000, and Joseph Couture.

Lukovsky joins the role most recently headed the 911 Emergency Communications division of the office.

“I used to look at license plates when I was driving around in my patrol car,” said Lukovsky, “and now I look at microwave ovens on towers.”

St. Louis County Inspector Jason Lukovsky.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

St. Louis County Inspector Jason Lukovsky. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])

Lukovsky was a sniper on the office’s tactical team for 12 years and has a penchant for having the back of his partners and being able to influence the results. But he has not handcuffed any suspect in the last eight years of his tenure.

“I’ve brought a lot of my athletic experience to this field and seen a lot of leadership qualities that go hand in hand,” he said. “I’m looking forward to mentoring at another level now, and in that sense nothing makes you prouder than to see someone you have invested a lot of time in to get promoted and move up too.”

Lukovsky and his family, including a wife and two children, live in the municipality of Fredenberg north of Duluth. Supervisors at the Hibbing, Virginia and Duluth locations will report back to him starting next week.

Phillips retires to his multi-generation home outside Pike Lake, where he and his wife live with the family of one of their two daughters.

“It’s not traditional, but I love it,” said Phillips. “This is how people lived 200 years ago. And I see Spencer my grandson every day of the week so I wouldn’t change that for anything. “

Phillips is from the Twin Cities and went to forest school. However, he was recruited as a community service officer in Plymouth, Minnesota, and later at a job fair by St. Louis County MPs for the police force.

He described retirement as exhilarating with some concern.

“This place has been a part of my life for over 32 years,” said Phillips. “Every job has its challenges, but I was so grateful to work for this sheriff and the people in this county.”

A 1999 photo in the office of Undersheriff Dave Phillips shows him (center) with Jason Lukovsky (left) and Lauren VanLoon.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

A 1999 photo in the office of Undersheriff Dave Phillips shows him (center) with Jason Lukovsky (left) and Lauren VanLoon. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])

Both men described Litman as an intelligent, strategic sheriff who vigorously questions their assumptions and work. They say the office’s command staff are more solid than ever.

“When Ross first ran for sheriff, he was an investigator and I was a sergeant, so I actually outperformed the sheriff back then,” Phillips said affectionately.

Litman never had to think about alternatives to Phillips.

“I’m getting emotional about it,” said Litman. “We worked very well together and I appreciate his contribution. We have a close friendship and a close professional relationship. “

Mike Jugovich, St. Louis County chairman, called Phillips a “great employee.”

“I enjoyed it, got to know it through a tour of the harbor,” said Jugovich. “He’s humble and really interested in what you have to say. The guy is just top notch. We will miss him. ”

Unsolicited, Phillips connects the controversial points between the beginning of his career and its climax. The background of his career began around the time Rodney King was videotaped in 1991 when he was beaten by Los Angeles police and ends with the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on three cases related to the murder of George Floyd last year.

“Rodney King really put the spotlight on the practices of the use of force by peace officials and now flashes back to the present day, and it’s the same,” lamented Phillips. “As law enforcement officers, we still have a long way to go. We have to fix things and we have people in our jurisdictions of all races – there has to be healing and a lot of work to be done. ”

Phillips was in San Francisco last week training with police officers.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” he said when Chauvin read the verdict.

“We are all in this profession; We all feel it and what Chauvin did wasn’t right, ”said Phillips. “We are not trained like that. We do not do that. That is not the public expectation. “

He repeated a line that was often said about police work: Officers often see people on the ground in their worst moments.

He recalled the February stalemate in Lincoln Park that resulted in the deaths of Duluth Police K-9 Luna and, ultimately, of suspect David “Pogo” Joseph Wayne Conwell, who succumbed to the deadly violence of the Sheriff’s Office.

Knowing not to micromanage the command staff on site, Phillips shuttled supplies back and forth to create a stalemate that lasted about 20 hours.

“It was an extremely dangerous situation with firearms and they tried moment by moment to get the person to surrender and in the end it just wasn’t supposed to be,” Phillips said. “Our boys surrounded the house, tried to negotiate and give this guy a chance.”

It was also during those moments that Phillips realized that he sees the best in people – those with whom he has allied himself throughout his career.

“Normal human behavior is that you run away from a bad thing,” said Phillips. “But cops, firefighters, public security people, they get the call and they walk towards it. For me this is the best trait of humanity, like soldiers in combat. You didn’t ask for it, but you know what: “We’ll do this.” ”

Undersheriff Dave Phillips speaks to a visitor to his office about his time and role in the St. Louis Sheriff's office while Jason Lukovsky listens.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Undersheriff Dave Phillips speaks to a visitor to his office about his time and role in the St. Louis Sheriff’s office while Jason Lukovsky listens. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])

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