By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Without closely watching a police officer, one might assume that most of their time is spent pulling people over and giving tickets.
This is far from reality, however.
“I think the really surprising thing is the sheer amount of office work that is done,” Winsted Police Chief Justin Heldt said.
Paperwork and court time for a single case can consume several hours. And there’s the daily follow-up of 30 to 40 emails, along with three to five citizens stopping in to express concerns in person.
Heldt makes fast response time a priority,
“Nothing slows down you don’t want to get behind in anything, because that’s when you get the big call,” he said.
And those big calls can come at any time.
When Mike Heinrich was police chief, he wrote down a few stories as examples of how the department protects citizens.
One day, for instance, there was a call from a man who had been interviewed on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct.
The man said he wanted to set the record straight, and asked the officer to meet him before he killed himself. Upon arrival, the man was found with a shotgun between his knees. Officers got the man to answer his cell phone, so they could communicate with him from the road. After speaking with him for about an hour, the man released his weapon.
Another story involved a suspicious person call on the north side of Winsted.
A man was reported to have been trying to break into homes including that of an off-duty police officer with a marked squad car in the driveway. After the suspect was handcuffed, he admitted to being on methamphetamine and said he was looking for things to steal in order to buy more drugs.
“People have bad days, and we deal with them on bad days,” Heldt said.
When asked if he is ever scared on the job, Heldt responded, “I wouldn’t say scared nothing that I wouldn’t handle, or that would cause me to withdraw from the situation.”
He added that a sense of fright, however, can be useful and potentially life-saving. “If you’re too emboldened and strong-willed, you can get hurt really quick,” he said. “Don’t just rush into it if you feel something’s not right. Maybe call for backup.”
Whether it’s busting a narcotics case or treating car crash victims, Winsted’s police officers are always ready to go where they are needed.
Heldt said he became a police officer in order to help people, and he views the job as a “calling.”
“You’re helping someone every day,” he said. “It’s not always going to be something major. It could be life and death, or it could be a lost dog.”
Even small things, though, are important to the person who is asking for help.
“Help is different for everyone,” Heldt said, adding that he strives to treat everyone equally.
Help in hard times
Some calls are more difficult than others, though, and “there are definitely the calls you don’t forget.”
All officers are trained as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and Heldt said he has done cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on six or seven people during his career.
Often, police officers are the first ones on scene in a medical emergency, followed by the fire department.
“We’re very lucky to have the fire department we do,” Heldt said. “It’s all volunteer; they’re top notch.”
Citizens who care
Heldt also has high praise for Winsted’s schools. He noted that students are generally well-behaved and law enforcement seldom if ever needs to intervene.
“One thing that’s really neat, is that people in Winsted look out for each other,” he added. “Overall, I think we really have a safe community.”
Heldt said citizens know to report suspicious vehicles or people, as this can prevent a crime from occurring.
Winsted’s officers also take precautions checking door locks on businesses, alerting homeowners when their garage doors are left open at night, and keeping an eye out for any unusual activity. An experienced officer often knows where people live, and what kind of vehicle they drive, so it is easy to spot anything that is amiss.
“It’s always being observant being aware,” Heldt said.
Trained to protect
Ongoing training is another way Winsted’s officers stay prepared for anything that may arise. Police are required to do 48 hours of continuing education every three years. Topics could include high-speed driving, firearms qualifications, use of force, narcotics, and more.
One course is dedicated solely to interviews and interrogations, a skill police use on a daily basis.
Winsted’s officers are also trained in dealing with mental health situations, and how to use less-than-lethal munitions to stop a threat.
For Heldt, law enforcement is a rewarding career that gives him an opportunity to protect and serve in different ways every day.
“You never know what’s next,” Heldt said. “That’s the thing I love about this job.”