Community Engagement Liaison Dillon Gherna

Community Engagement Liaison Dillon Gherna

“There’s something fun about coming to an environment where you can be creative and have team members who all bring a unique set of strengths to the table.” Most wouldn’t equate creativity with police, but Community Engagement Liaison Dillon Gherna recognizes the merit and importance of innovative community engagement.

Gherna joined the Department of Public Safety’s Community Engagement Team (CET) after four years with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office serving in various positions such as the director of public engagement, interim director of intergovernmental relations, and senior community outreach liaison. Originally from a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Minneapolis has been his home since young adulthood. 

The CET strives for community connection and education around safety programming, services, and resources; community partnerships; and building student trust. Gherna says the team is uniquely positioned to address issues like lighting and crisis anxiety in more approachable ways.

“Understanding a community member’s perspective, seeing where we can support them either through education, resources or just listening and taking the feedback to the decision-makers, has given me a lot of joy.”

His work reaches University students, faculty, staff, neighboring businesses, contractors, and thousands of visitors who come to campus each day.

As a self-described people person, Gherna uses his abilities to connect with others. “It’s not really listening to respond. It’s truly listening to engage.” Finding solutions, showing compassion, or working to meet people where they’re at is a positive community-building step for him.

Gherna notices how the way he authentically presents himself will be positively reflected in those he serves, referencing his identity as a gay man. 

“Every day at work I wear a rainbow Apple Watch wristband because as I was out in the community [with the Sheriff’s office], it helped facilitate a place of trust and understanding, and helped bridge a gap that was there.” 

Those moments of acknowledgment and identity building were rewarding for Gherna, as he recounts several individuals who have told him how his presence gave assurance that along with the uniform, he’s still able to be himself. “I don't hide it in the least,” he says. 

Being a civilian liaison allows for more personal connections with community members than other roles within the Department of Public Safety. While a University of Minnesota Police Department officer responds to 911 calls and might have minimal engagement with an individual, Gherna can help bridge a connection to campus resources and create prevention and awareness methods to share with the community. The ability to mix law enforcement with an educational component has been highly successful in his career.

He’s no stranger to growth, as Gherna is completing his law enforcement program at Century College. He even ran for Minneapolis City Council in 2021. Taking that “wild” leap, he says, gave him remarkable knowledge of how concerned individuals were about safety. “It was really special and unique for me to be there and listen to their concerns and brainstorm alongside them. It added a whole other level of depth to my professional experience.”

As introductions and training begin to cease, Gherna is ready to delve into this role and explore what’s been done and ways his team can continue to engage the campus community. He’s looking forward to planning diverse events, creating prevention materials on current issues, and fostering relationships with the University community. 

“My door is always open,” he says.


Connect with Dillon Gherna anytime at [email protected] or 612-391-6597, or with the CET at [email protected].