Meet the history-making sheriff of Lake County
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - History was made Tuesday night, when Sarina Talich was selected as the first-ever female county sheriff in Lake County.
She will be one of the only female law enforcement leaders in the state — both now, and ever.
When they’re both sworn in this January, Talich and Brown County’s Chris Reitsma Lau will be only two female county sheriffs in South Dakota, according to Dakota News Now’s research. A state law enforcement historian herself, Talich has found only one other female county sheriff in the history of the state, and that was decades ago.
The Lake County commissioners made their selection official at Tuesday’s meeting. Talich will replace Tim Walberg, who is retiring.
“I initially wanted to cry, because it’s very exciting,” Talich told Dakota News Now on Wednesday. “This is my ultimate goal. I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m looking forward to keeping the ship afloat and steering it in the right direction.”
The rural Hawarden, Iowa, native has been with the Lake County office for over 11 years, and has been the chief deputy for the last years. When she arrived in Madison over a decade ago, Talich’s goal was to use her time there as a stepping stone to a destination job in the Black Hills.
But all that changed.
“I have formed a lot of relationships with people in the public here, in the community, and a big reason why I want to stay here is the support that we do have,” Talich said.
Soon after Walberg took over the sheriff’s role from the retired Robert Hartman in 2010, Talich felt comfortable enough to tell Walberg this:
“When you’re ready to be done, I want your job,” Talich said.
And Talich says she would feel just as much pride in becoming the next male sheriff as she does in becoming the first female sheriff.
“I look at it as it’s not really any different,” Talich said. “I’ve been doing this. I’ve grown up in law enforcement, so it’s not, these are like my brothers and sisters. It’s not really much different. I’m just the most qualified person for the job right now, here in Lake County.”
Talich was the only person who applied for the role, but Hartman, the sheriff who hired her as a jail officer over a decade ago, agrees she is the most qualified, citing her experience, work ethic, and attitude.
“It’s going to fit well, because she’s an honest person,” Hartman said. “She loves what she’s doing. She’s very confident. She carries herself very well, and women can do the job just as easy as a man can.”
That doesn’t mean Talich, a mother of two, has had her doubts about her place in law enforcement. She said being a female in the force has its advantages and disadvantages.
”Some of the things that I thought were scary or made me think, ‘do I really want to do this’ is size,” said Talich, who stands about 5-foot-7.
“Am I going to have to fight a 6-foot-5 tall guy on a traffic stop, or an assault call? Am I going to have to fight them, because, physically, I’m not fit for that competition. But I’ve learned that we have more than just one tool in our box.”
And she realized being a woman can be a tool, too.
“A lot of times, seeing a female, in my experiences, is something that they may be more calm about versus having a male there,” Talich said.
A calming effect is one thing. But another “c” word is vital to succeeding in law enforcement, according to Talich.
“Having that confidence level that you know what you’re doing, that you’re confident in yourself and that you’re able to handle yourself is huge,” Talich said. “And that’s the one thing that females that started here — whether it be in the jail or the road — that you have to have that confidence level, otherwise they’re going to eat you up. Same with being a male. They’re going to do the same thing.”
The calmness and confidence within Talich saw its greatest challenge over a year ago in a standoff that involved a man who was threatening to kill himself outside a gas station and convenience store on a high-traffic corner in Madison. Talich and two other Lake County deputies, along with a Madison Police Department officer, were called to the scene.
“We had a firearm pointed in our faces throughout that whole call,” Talich said, “and ultimately, he was shot and taken into custody.”
Talich called the incident a “joint effort” and made sure to point out she wasn’t a part of the negotiations. Still, in May 2021, the four officers were awarded the Medal of Honor from the South Dakota Police Chiefs and South Dakota Sheriffs Associations. It is given to law enforcement officers who willingly distinguish themselves through an act of courage, involving a risk of imminent serious injury or death, for the purpose of saving or protecting a human life or while taking an armed and immediately dangerous suspect into custody.
Interacting with the public is perhaps Talich’s greatest strength, Hartman said.
“She’s a nice person to deal with,” Hartman said. “She’s fair. She treats people as she wants to be treated, and that’s important. I’ve never known her to talk down to people or anything like that. She’ll make a good sheriff.”
Tea Police Chief Jessica Quigley — Talich’s roommate in South Dakota Law Enforcement Acadamy’s Class of 2007 — calls Talich “down to earth” and took it up a notch in describing what Lake County should expect out of soon-to-be Sheriff Talich, one of her “best friends in life.”
“She’s going to be awesome,” said Quigley, who is one of only three female city police chiefs in the state that she knows of in her lifetime. “I know the pride she has in taking that position. She’s worked there a long time. It means a lot to her. She knows what she’s been given.”
Quigley quickly corrected her wording of that last remark.
“She knows what she’s earned,” Quigley said.
South Dakota is well behind the national average in female county sheriffs. According to zippity.com, they comprise of about one-third the top positions in all American county sheriff offices.
Yes, women are sometimes are made to feel ‘less than,’ ‘like, you’re a girl, you’re not as strong or smart,’” Quigley said. Talich joked about how sometimes someone will call the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and ask for the deputy. When the call is transferred to Talich, she’ll answer, “and they’ll say, ‘Oh, no, I asked for the deputy.’ And I’ll tell them, you’re talking to her.”
Asked if she wants to hire more women, and inspire girls to go into law enforcement, Talich said, “of course,” and mentioned what, to her, is the most concerning challenge her office faces.
“We’re currently looking for females to work in our jail, and we can’t find more qualified applicants,” Talich said.
She doesn’t know why people are hesitant to work there, like she did when she started out.
“Maybe they think they’ll have to fight people, or they won’t feel qualified,” Talich said. “But I tell them, ‘we’ll train you.’”
For someone who enjoys almost every aspect of the operation — the jail, the civil process, the budget, the courtroom, responding to accidents, and especially forensics and investigations — it is helping staff with any of it, and all of it, that Talich is most eager to tackle as sheriff.
“I look forward to being that person they come to looking for help,” Talich said. “To work alongside them, like we have been. I just want that relationship to continue.”
Lake County is a relatively safe place, Talich said. She loves how the community supports law enforcement officers and their families, citing a recent parade for officers, complete with fireworks.
Her husband is a patrol sergeant for the Madison Police Department. Aaron Talich declined an interview with Dakota News Now, preferring to keep the spotlight on his wife.
“He’s excited for me,” Talich said. “He’s been very supportive. Whatever goals I’ve wanted, whether it’d be to continue law enforcement, or — I also have a photography business on the side that he’s been very supportive of, as well.”
The two say they keep work and home life mostly separate, and their opposite shifts — hers are common day hours and he works nightside — mean they don’t see as much of each other as they’d like.
They met while working for the Tea Police Department over a decade ago, and have two children — an eight-year-old boy and five-year-old girl.
“They are more enthused about the garbage truck drivers than they are about cops,” Talich said, dryly. “If they see someone in uniform, it’s ‘Ryan’ or it’s ‘Craig.’ We’re not officers or deputies.”
They feel entrenched in the fabric of Madison and Lake County, and Talich has decided she’s just fine with traveling to the Black Hills occasionally rather than living there, and the plan is for that area to be her retirement spot.
Talich is slated to be Lake County Sheriff thru January 5, 2025. Whether her tenure goes beyond that will be decided by the voters of Lake County almost exactly two years from now in the November 2024 election.
Asked how that affects how she’ll operate as an appointed sheriff, and as the only person who applied for the position at this time, Talich didn’t seem worried.
She didn’t publicize her application to take over as sheriff, but once people asked her, or overheard she had, the support was “very humbling to see.”
“I guess I have more support than I realized I do, so, just knowing that, I feel confident I’m able to run, and I’m able to hopefully win. I think that I’ll have the support of the community like I already do.”
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