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Shawn Haken is Jackson County's new sheriff

JACKSON -- Armed with 24 years of experience in law enforcement, a dedicated support staff and the endorsement of retiring sheriff Roger Hawkinson, 44-year-old Shawn Haken is Jackson County's new sheriff.

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Shawn Haken is the new Jackson County Sheriff. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

JACKSON -- Armed with 24 years of experience in law enforcement, a dedicated support staff and the endorsement of retiring sheriff Roger Hawkinson, 44-year-old Shawn Haken is Jackson County’s new sheriff.

After a week-long vacation fishing with his family on Leech Lake, Haken was on the job over the weekend, including patrolling at Okabena’s annual July 4 celebration Monday.

“I am excited to take over after learning about this opportunity at the end of last year,” said Haken. “I know things won’t be easy being the supervisor in charge, but I am walking into a good situation as Roger ran a great sheriff’s office.”

Hawkinson spent 33 years in various law enforcement capacities in Jackson County, including the last 10 as the sheriff. He still had two years left on his third four-year term, but opted to retire early and told Haken last December that “it’s your turn to carry the torch.”

Haken’s appointment was approved by the Jackson County commissioners in April and the Jeffers native --- and son of former Cottonwood County Sheriff Bob Haken --- officially began his new duties July 1.

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“Shawn is well-respected by his staff and the citizens of the county," Hawkinson said, "He's very approachable, and I know he'll give the county 110 percent."

Haken joined the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in the fall of 2009 as a deputy and was promoted to sergeant status in summer 2014. Before that, he served 14 years as an officer with the Windom Police Department.

“I went from 14 years wearing blue as a city cop to wearing brown as a sheriff’s deputy,” recalled Haken about the change in his career, which eventually positioned him for his latest promotion.

“I had good experiences as a city cop in Windom,” he said. “We had a force of eight most of those years and I learned a lot from both my chiefs, Gary Johnson and Jeff Shirkey.”

County force also covers several towns, including Jackson                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Haken’s new job puts him in charge of a large force -- as many as 16 --- due to the sheriff’s office also taking over police duties in Jackson, Okabena, Alpha, Wilder, Petersburg and Bergen. Only Lakefield and Heron Lake staff their own city police departments.

“We’re kind of unique,” Haken said. “Since we absorbed the city of Jackson about 10 years ago, we have increased our staff to handle six of the eight towns in the county. Both Rock and Pipestone counties have similar situations.”

As a new sheriff, Haken certainly feels blessed to be aided by an experienced and dedicated staff.

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“I have a lot of confidence in my sergeants and our deputies,” he said. “It’s a hard-working staff which takes pride in doing the job right.”

Haken appreciates all he learned from Hawkinson during the six-month transition phase.

“Roger’s been showing me the ropes,” he said. “It’s been a good transition period, and I’ve learned a lot through training with him.”

Strong family tradition in law enforcement                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Taking up a career in law enforcement was part of a family tradition for Haken, who was born in Tracy in 1972 while his father, Bob, worked on the police force in that southeast Lyon County town.

The family later moved to Jeffers, where Bob became a sheriff’s deputy for Cottonwood County under long-time sheriff Glen Ward. Bob was elected sheriff in 1998 and served eight years before retiring at the end of 2006.

“My dad had an uncle and a cousin who were both highway patrol troopers in Alaska,” said Shawn. “I think that at least 10, maybe 12 guys on my dad’s side of the family were in law enforcement in some capacity. It’s been kind of a family thing.”

Shawn’s brother, Eric, who is two years younger, is a Cottonwood County deputy, and he --- like Bob and Shawn --- obtained his law enforcement degree from Alexandria Technical & Community College.

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“We both followed Dad’s footsteps,” summed up Shawn, who graduated from Storden-Jeffers High School in 1990 and completed his training at Alexandria in 1992.

While growing up in Jeffers, the Haken brothers spent many late-summer nights shooting baskets with the three Pudenz sisters who were their neighbors, all of whom later went on to play college basketball after starring for S-J’s state tournament teams.

“We often played basketball until two in the morning before other neighbors complained about the noise of the bouncing ball,” Shawn recalled.

Shawn’s first job was as a part-time Cottonwood County deputy under Ward, also working as a dispatcher and jailer for two years. He then spent two years of mostly night work as a city cop under Dennis Waldron in both Heron Lake and Okabena. In 1996, Shawn began his 14 years of service with the Windom Police Department.

Shawn and Teresa (Vellema) were married in 1997 and made their home in Windom until moving recently to an acreage in northern Jackson County -- still in the Windom school district -- where Teresa works as a paraprofessional and sons Austin (17) and Mitchell (13) are student-athletes.

“Mitchell, he’s our ‘miracle baby’ having gone through two open-heart surgeries when he was less than six months old,” remembered Shawn. “He had one done when he was just two weeks old and then a second one six months later. He’s totally fine now; that surgeon in Omaha did a terrific job.”

With an experienced background, Haken seeks to follow the traditions of his family and the Jackson County Sheriff’s department into a successful career as the county’s new sheriff.

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