Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Feb. 18, 2002

Gary Schott hangs up his badge while he still likes the job

By Lynda Jensen

Wisdom prompted veteran officer Gary Schott, 50, to hang up his badge in favor of retirement Feb. 2.

Schott decided to take a lesson from the past, and end his 27 years of full-time law enforcement while he still enjoyed his job and had his health.

"It was time to get out. I've seen people ahead of me retire, and then die of heart attacks," Schott said.

Being a small-town cop is one of the more stressful jobs there can be, and adversely impacts the officer's health, he said. The hours can be endless, along with pay and benefits that do not measure up to metropolitan positions, he said.

Police officers have higher rates of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disorders, double the divorce rate, and suicide rates two to six-fold compared to the national average, according to statistics from Columbia University.

Police officers have the third highest premature death rate nationwide.

"It is a difficult, dangerous, and often thankless job," Schott said.

Schott pointed to statistics he gathered about the stress of being an officer.

"Police officers regularly deal with the most violent, impulsive and predatory members of society, put their lives on the line, and confront cruelties and horrors that the rest of us view from the sanitized distance of our newspapers and TV screens. In addition to the daily grind, officers are frequently the target of criticism and complaints by citizens, the media, the judicial system, adversarial attorneys, social service personnel, and their own administrators and agencies," according to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

"Everybody thinks it's an easy job," he said. "In the long run, it kills you," he said.

Along the way

During his career, Schott has witnessed some very interesting things.

"I only got injured once," he said, counting himself lucky.

Several years ago, Schott ended up in the hospital after a driver in Tracy rammed his patrol car, intending to injure the deputy who just got off duty less than an hour before.

After ramming the car, the suspect went after Schott with several objects, including a gun.

Upon moving close enough to recognize Schott, the suspect exclaimed "You're not Jeff! (the other officer)," Schott said.

The man was subdued, and eventually Schott wore a t-shirt that exclaimed "I'm not Jeff."

Many residents may remember the suspect who killed Hutchinson officer Mike Hogan in 1989. Schott was the officer to run the suspect off the road, and help capture him after a long standoff.

Another time, he stopped a driver for speeding, and realized it was the first man revived by the new defibrillator 10 years before in Winsted. "We hugged and shook hands," he said.

Working with people is the best part of the job, he said.

Then there are calls such as the one where he responded to a squirrel caught in a bird feeder, he said.

The toughest part is responding to emergencies when they involve victims who the officer knows personally, especially being from a small town, Schott said.

"The saddest part is doing CPR on someone you know," he said.

End of a long career

Schott's interest in law enforcement was sparked by officers who stopped by at Bob's Shell station in Hutchinson, where Schott worked during high school. Schott remembers gas being 23 cents a gallon.

Schott began his career by joining the Marine Corps in 1970 after graduating from Hutchinson High School.

He enlisted in the fall, and was stationed in California.

In February 1972, he received orders to serve at Vietnam with the Marine Air Wing. He traveled to Japan, and then to DaNang, South Vietnam. He also was stationed at NaPhong, Thailand, and Cubi Point, in the Philippines.

He returned to take a part time job as an officer in Stewart, Minn., for $2.50 an hour.

He also served Silver Lake part time, starting in 1975, for $3 per hour, as well as working for the town of Tracy, Minn. for two years.

Wabasha, located near Lake Pepin, hired Schott full time and sent him for training at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Anoka.

He also attended college at Normandale in 1983, where he earned his associate degree, and then later earned a degree at Mankato State University in 1994.

Schott arrived in Winsted May 1981 for full time employment. In addition, he served Lester Prairie part time, starting in 1981. He has also worked part time for McLeod County since 1995, and will probably continue to do so after his retirement.

Schott has also served on the Winsted ambulance for two decades.

His future plans include looking for a good civilian job, he said.

He will continue to work part time for the county.

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