Preview into the candidates in the race for Eau Claire County sheriff

Officers Kevin Otto and Don Henning share their plans for the sheriff’s department as the summer primary draws closer.

Allison Hinrichs


Allison Hinrichs

After serving as sheriff of Eau Claire County for nearly 50 years, Ron Cramer has announced he will be retiring and therefore will not be seeking re-election. Before securing his spot as the 47th Sheriff of Eau Claire County in 1996.

Cramer worked in the patrol division where he rose through the ranks to investigator and gained experience in undercover work.During his 48-year term Cramer established a three-county tactical team in collaboration with Dunn and Chippewa County and helped settle unrest in Kenosha.

However, instead of running for another term Cramer plans to retire and hang up the badge.

Since the announcement, Don Henning, a lifelong resident of Eau Claire with 30 plus years’ experience as a detective with the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office, and Kevin Otto, also a lifelong resident of Eau Claire with 23-years’ experience in corrections in Eau Claire County have announced their candidacy.

Representing the Democratic party, Kevin Otto has been a resident of Eau Claire County for 26 years. His career began in the summer of 1999 at the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office as a Correctional Officer in the Jail. From there he went on to become a Field Sergeant in 2002 and then was promoted to Jail Sergeant in 2010.

In interviews with both candidates, they shared their intentions for the department, should they be elected.

According to Otto the number one crime issue that needs immediate action from the next sheriff is the growing drug issue in the community. 

“It expands into a whole bunch of other stuff; robberies, burglaries, stuff to pay for the drugs,” Otto said.

Representing the Republican party is Don Henning, also a lifelong resident of Eau Claire with 30+ years’ experience as a volunteer firefighter and the current head of Eau Claire county’s Child Abduction Response Team.

Henning shares Otto’s sentiment that the growing drug issue is the Sheriff’s Office number one concern.

According to Henning “that’s by-and-large our number one problem here and its not just here unfortunately it’s a regional problem.”

When it comes to protective status for correctional officers, Otto has plans to secure better benefits for his former co-workers.

According to the Leader-Telegram, protective status would authorize duty disability benefits for Eau Claire County Jail correctional officers and make them eligible for early retirement.

Last year during a meeting with local state legislators, the Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee vowed to prioritize the implementation of protective status to Eau Claire County correctional officers.

Captain Dave Riewestahl of the Sheriff’s Office’s security services division estimated the cost of implementation for the Leader-Telegram and appraised it at about $750,000 per year.

As someone who was personally affected by the lack-there-of when it came to protective status, Otto, if elected sheriff, hopes to encourage its implementation.

“If you look at the law that covers that protective status, it names all the officers that are out on the road arresting people,” Otto said. “It then skips to the prison guards, and it even goes on to probation parole agents, but it leaves out the correctional officers on the county level and we deal with the same people they do.

Henning said the subject of protective status is close to this heart as well. He recalls a former co-worker of his, back when he was a correctional officer himself, who reaps the consequences of not being granted protective status.

“There is one other correctional officer specifically, she was hired about a year prior to me, she is still working in the jail,” Henning said. “She’s probably 53-54 years old because without protective status she doesn’t have the opportunity to retire with full benefits.

As for other concerns within the department, Henning wants to investigate solutions for understaffing and the overwhelm of crime within the county.

“There has been an increase in crime, and I think that’s directly correlated to the fact that we have an increase in population.” 

According to Otto the understaffing concern comes down to a recruitment and retention issue in the department.

“Protective status would be one retention tool that would help improve things,” Otto said, for recruitment “I think we actually have to go out there and be active, going to the universities, going to the tech schools, getting people to want to do this job.”

In closing statements Otto emphasized the importance of collaboration for Eau Claire County.

“If it comes down to if we can work collaborating with other departments and address the drug issue, the mental health issue, if we can work together to find solutions to that other than putting them in jail, that would bring the numbers down.”

As for Henning he hopes to continue to uphold the legacy of the Eau Claire County’s Sheriff department.

“My absolute goal and demand of our staff and local law enforcement will be to keep the community safe and make it a good place.”

The sheriff election primary will take place on August 9 and the general election will be held on November 8.

Hinrichs can be reached at [email protected]