By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN With great reluctance, the Howard Lake City Council formally accepted the resignation of Howard Lake Police Chief Tracy Vetruba Tuesday.
“You’ve done a fabulous job; I really hate to see you go,” said Council Member Tom Kutz, noting he thinks people in the community feel the same way.
“We appreciate all the hard work you have done,” said Mayor Pete Zimmerman.
Vetruba has been the city’s police chief for nearly four years, and his resignation will take effect Sunday, March 17.
Vetruba is moving to Kansas because his wife, Tina, received a promotion that included a relocation package from her employer, Cargill.
She moved to an apartment in Kansas about a month ago to begin her new position, while Vetruba looked for a job in the area.
An engineer by trade, Vetruba was looking for a way to give back to his community when he became a police officer.
“My ambition when I was young was to become a pilot in the Air Force,” Vetruba said. However, that dream had to go unfulfilled because he did not have perfect vision, which was required at the time.
So, Vetruba joined the officer reserve program in 1997 while working for more than eight years as an engineer at Pillsbury General Mills.
Using the credit he had earned for his engineering degree as a starting point, Vetruba pursued a degree in law enforcement.
“I took quite a bit of a pay cut to become a police officer,” Vetruba noted.
Before becoming chief, Vetruba was a part-time officer with the city, and also worked for the city of Buffalo as a full-time officer.
However, being the chief suited Vetruba. “I like the administrative side of things and managing the department,” he said. “I’m a planner; I like to plan things out and execute them.”
During his time as chief, Vetruba added the reserve officer program and the school resource officer (SRO) program to the police department.
The reserve officer program utilizes volunteers who are not sworn officers to provide “an extra set of eyes and ears” for the police department in the community.
The volunteers gain additional training and experience by participating in ride-alongs with Howard Lake police officers, and provide additional support and traffic control at various events.
The SRO program was instituted in the fall of 2011, and assists the school with maintaining a safe school environment for students.
Vetruba has also been active in creating a better community in Howard Lake by participating in Howard Lake Thrive.
He volunteered his computer-assisted drafting skills to design the Howard Lake entrance sign that is slated to be installed soon.
Not only has Vetruba taken a leadership role in the community, but he has also been a leader in the region.
Until his recent resignation, he was the chairman for Safe Communities of Wright County.
He was also chairman of Region VII Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, which includes the chiefs of police from departments as far north as Mora, south as Howard Lake, and includes most of Stearns County.
The biggest case Vetruba worked on in his time as chief was the embezzlement of nearly $100,000 from the Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store by former manager Aaron DeMarais.
His biggest challenge has been personnel issues that have arisen during his time as chief, he said.
One of Vetruba’s least favorite tasks as an officer is responding to deceased person calls. “I won’t miss that at all,” he said, noting he has only had to respond to three or four in his time as chief.
Vetruba will be returning to the engineering field, having secured a position at Mid-Continent Instrument and Avionics in Wichita, KS a company that manufactures and repairs airplane instruments.
Now that Vetruba has found a job and resigned as chief, the next task is tying up loose ends here, and finding a house in a suburb of Wichita with a good school district for his children, Jadin, 8, and Hailey, 5.
Although Vetruba, who has served more than seven years as a police officer, is going back into the engineering field, he plans to eventually complete at least 10 years total as an officer in order to qualify to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the US under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act.