1965 - 2015
In 1965, the department was officially formed with a full time police chief and two part time officers. Since, the organization has grown to 70 police officers, 15 civilian staff, and 8 volunteers police chaplains. Over the next several issues, Experience Eagan will take a look back—decade by decade—at the events and routines that shaped the Eagan Police Department into the organization it is today.
The Early Years
Bumping along the unpaved surface of Yankee Doodle Road from his home along that roadway, in 1965; Martin DesLauriers, Eagan’s first Police Chief, often headed toward the Minnesota River bottoms because someone was taking target practice there, or to round up animals running at large, or check out a site of illegal dumping. All of these were fairly typical calls for DesLauriers in those earliest days of Eagan Township’s Police Department.
DesLauriers had been a Constable for the Town for nearly 10 years. But on June 1, 1965 when the department was officially authorized, Constable DesLauriers became Chief. He was also given the O.K. by the Town Board to hire two part time officers to round out the force. The officers were to be paid $2.50 per hour (hired for a six-month trial period) while DesLauriers himself made $3.00 per hour. A squad car would not be authorized for several more months. A dispatcher – other than Martin’s wife Marie taking calls on their home telephone – was still several years in the future.
The Township was the original 34-square miles it is today, but was primarily farm land. Only a few suburban style neighborhoods such as Mckee, Country Home Heights and Cedar Grove pointed toward the type of community Eagan would become.
As neighborhood areas grew steadily through the Department’s first decade, DesLauriers recalls, “I used to know everyone in Eagan, where they lived, who their family was,” he said, “As neighborhoods grew, we’d add 50 or 100 families in a short period of time—there was no way we could know everybody anymore.”
According to Eagan’s history book, “The Lone Oak Years” which DesLauriers helped compile:
Before the growth of suburban housing, police activities were less formal because the officers knew most of the residents. Juvenile mischief makers were likely to be taken home to be punished by their parents…DesLauriers carried a camera and makeshift fingerprint equipment in his car but rarely used them…After years of “shirt pocket” crime records, [DesLauriers, and his Administrative Assistant, Virginia Knight, Eagan’s first civilian staff member] set up Eagan’s first uniform crime reporting system according to FBI standards which proved valuable as the town grew.
It was not only the neighborhoods that grew during this period though; businesses were choosing to locate in Eagan too. In 1967, Sperry Univac (later becoming Lockheed Martin) opened the doors to its semiconductor plant and brought hundreds of employees to its facility each day—all traveling on the unpaved Pilot Knob and Yankee Doodle Roads. About the same time, Cedarvale Mall opened, bringing the first large retail development to Eagan. These factors amplified traffic, and along with newly posted speed limits, increased the number of traffic violations issued by Eagan Police.
In what was a rather high-tech move for the day, DesLauriers crafted a signal box that sat on the dash of the Eagan squad. “If someone at Cedarvale needed Police response,” said DesLauriers, “they would push a button in their store, the signal would be transmitted to the little box on the dash and turn on the light. It worked great as long as the squad was in range and someone was inside the vehicle,” DesLauriers laughs. “Boy, we’ve come a long way since those days.”
In About 1974...
Today law enforcement in Eagan is a $12.3 million, 85-person round-the clock operation, but as Eagan Police celebrates its 50th anniversary, we look back at the days when resources were fewer but the dedication to public safety was one and the same.
In 1974, this article ran in the local Eagan Chronicle. Eagan was changing from a Township to a City. Officer Rodger Slater, a former Army reservist and Eagan farm boy had been on the Police force for seven years.
"We worked 10-hour shifts, five days on and five off," says Slater. By then the department had two squad cars, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., one more from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. "for people getting off work and afterbar-crowd calls." Slater recalls. "We swapped cars with the day crew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Early on, Martin [DesLauriers, Police Chief,] would pick me up at the end of his dayshift, I’d take him home in the squad and start my night shift," Slater says.
He remembers they covered a lot of ground in those days. It wasn’t uncommon to put on 200 miles a shift to patrol all of Eagan. One car, a station wagon doubled as an ambulance at accidents or when a victim couldn’t wait for one out of Savage or St. Paul – like the baby Slater delivered in the driveway at an Eagan farm. "I tied off the umbilical cord with a shoelace," he recalls with a laugh.
The Sheriff’s office dispatched for Eagan then and Slater remembers several low spots in town, "we knew to drive through fast, because the signal would drop and we’d miss a call."
Technology was mostly hand-made and created of necessity. There were no computers or dash cams then. "Just our dispatch radios and radar," says Slater. Martin was frustrated that officers had to be in a squad to hear dispatches, Slater recalls. Even inside the Police building, which was located on the northwest corner of Pilot Knob Road next to the Old Town Hall. When the officers went in — to drop off evidence, give a report to the secretary or to lock someone in a cell— "we’d pull the squad up close to the building, roll down the windows and listen for calls from the car," says Slater, "and be quick so we didn’t miss anything."
Out of necessity, DesLauriers got creative. "He bought a transistor radio, taped a dispatch radio to it. I don’t remember exactly how it worked," Slater says, "but tuned to the right station, the radio picked up the Sheriff and now we had a portable. It was an improvement."
As the community changed, crime and police duties changed with it. The Cedarvale Mall and Valley National Bank would hire off-duty officers during the holidays to help with all of the traffic. Yet Yankee Doodle, Lexington and Cliff Roads were all still gravel with grass growing down the center.
Valley National Bank was also the site of one high profile case Slater recalls in the late 1970s. A man jumped into a woman’s car. With a knife to her throat, he forced her to make a withdrawal at the drive-through. He took the cash, released the woman. The car was later found nearby and the FBI was called to investigate. While Slater wasn’t assigned, he offered to dust the car for prints. The FBI agent gave the go-ahead and Slater went to work. He recovered finger prints that eventually helped with a conviction. He was sent a nice long letter of appreciation from the FBI for his work. Slater said that’s one of the things he always liked about being a cop in Eagan. "We worked cases all the way through, from the call, to photos, evidence, interviews, to the prosecutor. So we saw it all the way through."
A new police facility would be built in 1978—now part of the City Hall first floor. A whole Police Wing would be needed by 1996. Technology, staffing, dispatching and much more would change. But those are stories for the next issues of Experience Eagan as we travel through the 50-year history of the Eagan Police Department.
Officer Slater retired in 1998. "The change in technology, training and the population was unbelievable," he says. "But the job itself didn’t change that much, really. Martin’s policy was ‘Do what you think is right …’ That was a pretty simple idea but it worked well all my years. Of course," he says with a chuckle, "the actual policy grew to hundreds of pages by the time I retired."
Department Adapts with 1980s Decade of Growth
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Eagan Police Department, we’ve looked back at the Township Constable, turned Police Chief, on through the department’s first decade. In this issue we focus on the growth of the department as Eagan developed rapidly through the 1980s. Come along for the ride.
By the mid-1980s, Eagan was the fastest growing community in the state. It was also a community of contrast during this decade. In some corners, the sleepier farm life of the last century still held its grip, yet the more suburban neighborhoods, were sprouting up across town. The Eagan Police Department was adapting itself, to meet the needs of a burgeoning community.
The opening of the Cedar Freeway Bridge as the 1980s arrived made Eagan far more accessible to the Twin Cities than the previous one-lane river crossing. Pat Geagan, hired as an Officer in 1969, later worked his way through the ranks to become Eagan’s third Police Chief. He recalls, “Eagan was never the same. When the ribbon was cut, we became a city along with all the positives and negatives. [Police] calls for service and traffic violations surged.”
Lori Tripp, Eagan’s first female officer, hired in 1980 agrees. “Part of why I chose Eagan was that I knew Cedar and the two other freeway bridges [494 and I-35E] would open and Eagan’s population would surge. It would be an exciting time to be a cop here.”
Tripp was not wrong in her decision. “We always had regular shifts,” Tripp recalls. “So we got used to seeing certain cars in certain neighborhoods...we got to know when something was unusual.” But, after the bridges opened up she remembers the change. It became more common to encounter people with long criminal records and weapons. “We just didn’t see much of that before.”
Her earliest “exciting” call came as she drove the still-gravel stretch of Lexington Avenue, near Wescott. “I saw three men come running out of a hedge,” she said. At the same time a call came on the radio of a burglary in progress. “I was able to catch one of the guys.” Neighboring cities were called to set up a perimeter. The other two were caught as well and later charged for the break-in. “I remember thinking, this is just like TV,” she exclaimed. The bucolic, “Mayberry-like” Eagan was retreating.
Yet, Officer Linda Myhre, also hired in 1980, recalls coming face-to-face with the country/city clash during her early days on the force. “I was dispatched to a call of a pig loose on Yankee Doodle Road. On arrival, I found a GIANT boar in the road. This pig was State Fair sized and in the middle of Yankee Doodle,” Myhre recalls. “I got out of my squad and
approached the pig and it looked at me like I was going to be lunch. It sauntered toward me; I ran for my squad and was stepping in,” she says. “That was as far as I got. That monster pig began scratching his back on the open squad door, pinning my legs between the door and frame so I couldn’t move. Finally a farmer arrived with a bucket of ‘slop’ and lured the pig from my door,” Myhre says with a laugh.
Transition at the Top
After 30+ years as Eagan’s top cop, Martin Deslauriers decided to turn in his badge in 1983. Upon retirement, he was one of the longest-serving chiefs in Minnesota.
DesLauriers noted how proud he was of his department, and of having been able to serve the community where he grew up. “I’ve been fortunate here. I’ll tell you, the biggest headache most Police Chiefs have is dealing with people they work with. I can’t say that. There isn’t one officer who … couldn’t handle any problem that came up,” he says, “and that’s a nice feeling.”
One of those people, DesLauriers’ Deputy Chief Jay Berthe, in fact, would succeed him. Berthe joined the force part time in 1966, while still holding down his regular job as the produce manager at the Red Owl grocery. Although there were several other part time officers, Berthe became the Town’s first full time patrolman later that same year. By 1983, as he became Chief, the department had grown to 25 sworn officers and 11 civilian staff. The community had nearly quadrupled from 6,000 in 1966 to 20,000 as he took over the Chief’s desk.
In 1978, the department moved into its new facility on the east side Pilot Knob Road, expanding from cramped quarters in Eagan’s first City Hall on the west side of the road. Though the new building was high-tech for its day, the move itself was done “the
old fashioned way” by Police and City staff. Many of the file cabinets, desks, typewriters and dispatch radios were literally rolled across the two lanes of Pilot Knob Road from the original Police building.
The new facility, the first building on what would become the Municipal Center Campus, held regulation holding cells, a modernized dispatching area, garage bays and plenty of space to grow, into the future.
Recalling History & Stormy Times
“Any organization is better off knowing where it began. In 1965, Eagan had a fledgling department. Before you know it we’re at 40 years and that is really something... to consider how that department is building and living its history every day.”
- Kent Therkelsen, Eagan’s fourth Police Chief
When the Eagan Police Department embarked on its 40th year, Chief Kent Therkelsen had led the department since the retirement of Chief Pat Geagan in 1999. Therkelsen was the first to come from outside of Eagan’s ranks, having been hired from Bloomington.
“When I was hired I had the really nice luxury of stepping into a very stable department with a great reputation, in a community I’d lived in for seven years,” says Therkelsen.
Arguably one of the largest transitions for the Eagan Police Department in its fourth decade was the opening of a joint dispatching center for all Police and Fire services throughout the County in 2007. Although it would take several more years for the ten communities and Dakota County to vote in support of a joint communications center, the idea had its inception with two seemingly unrelated events.
One was the enormous storm of 2000 in which Eagan was deluged by nearly a foot of rain in less than 24 hours, flooding many homes and overwhelming Eagan’s dispatch staff with calls from impacted residents. Therkelsen noted, “If you have four phones that can take calls and 104 people calling,100 people are going to get busy signals, that’s just the reality. Natural disasters always test a dispatch system, no matter how strong it is.”
This test was followed a year later by the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. While thousands of miles away, “Apprehension was palpable,” said Therkelsen. “We were literally taking calls on things that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow the week
before.” Therkelsen believes these distinct events helped address the need for more partnership, better information sharing and the additional shared staff a joint dispatch center could bring.
When the dispatch center opened in 2007, it was with Kent Therkelsen as its Director. This opened the door for a new Chief in Eagan. Jim McDonald, was sworn in on September 5, 2006 and remains Chief today. “Mac” as he’s known, was hired by Eagan’s second Chief, Jay Berthe in 1988 and has spent his entire career with Eagan.
EPD's Fifth Decade
EPD’s Fifth Decade Puts Technology Forward, Strong Values Above All
Back in 1988, when James (Jim) McDonald considered Eagan for his first Police position, he drove around the community and immediately knew it was a place poised for great growth and opportunity. He clearly remembers the roads. “Pilot Knob and Yankee Doodle were narrow and hilly and jammed with traffic. You could tell this place was just bulging at the seams on the verge of expansion,” he said. “I knew right away this was going to be a vibrant place to be.”
At the time, all new Eagan Police hires started as community service officers (CSO) then, typically spending about six months learning the community, and training. McDonald recalls, “I was only a CSO about three weeks before they handed me the keys to a squad. We were just that busy.”
McDonald was one of the last hires made by Eagan’s second chief Jay Berthe, and the former chief is pretty proud of that, noting, “We always found good people to hire…but I didn’t know then that I was hiring a [future] chief. That’s one of my better accomplishments,” he chuckles.
Through 50 years and five chiefs, hiring good people has remained a top priority. Chief McDonald points to the strong foundation set by Eagan’s first chief. “What we look for [when hiring] is strong values… someone who will do the right thing even when no one’s looking—that hasn’t changed since Martin’s time,” says McDonald. “In the beginning, Martin didn’t have a manual, but what he had was a strong moral compass and I think it still guides this department. He’s the cornerstone.”
When McDonald was selected as chief in 2006, he says he was honored to be sworn in by “his mentor,” retired Police Chief and Mayor, Pat Geagan. One of his priorities as chief, he said at the time, was to continue to build the geo-policing program, one begun under his predecessor, Chief Kent Therkelsen. Geopolicing relies on the use of technology, tools such as crime mapping and data trends, to assist officers in identifying crime and quality of life issues in their patrol areas.
McDonald, true to his word, grew that program greatly and expanded the department’s use of technology overall. In 2008, he created the Computer Forensic Unit. “There is so much crime now that can be tracked on computers, cell phones, Xboxes, you name it,” McDonald says. “The success in the recent arrests in the Town Hall arson case would not have happened without solid police investigation augmented by tracking activities of the suspects through a variety of technology.”
“When I started, I carried a notepad, we had a 5 channel radio, a map, mace and a revolver,” he said. “Today our squads are equipped with computers with internet capabilities; they connect to local, state and national databases. Officers have cell phones and all of the best technology available.”
The Computer Forensic Unit goes well beyond that. They process crime scenes and uncover digital evidence in the first critical moments of an investigation. The unit has uncovered text messages, GPS data, audio and video evidence, hidden files, communications, documents, social media posts, user files, IP addresses and much more to help track down criminals. It’s the team we need to beat the criminals of today,” says McDonald.
“The City Council has always been very supportive of what we do and has invested in training and equipment. What we have is some of the best around and we’re very appreciative they continue to invest in us,” says McDonald. But above all he credits the residents of Eagan. “I want people who live here to feel safe and for those who interact with this department to leave with the feeling that we are an asset and not a detriment to this community,” says McDonald. “We enjoy very positive ratings in surveys and in national rankings…but I never want to take that for granted.”