Langseth has helped keep Adrian safe for 20 years
ADRIAN -- Problem-solver, counselor, arbitrator, peace maker. These are the things he does on a regular basis.
After graduating from Hawley High School and spending two years earning his Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification, Shawn Langseth's goal was to work on a police department in a small town.
"I grew up in a small town, and was comfortable with the atmosphere," he explained.
He certainly got his wish.
He started with the Adrian Police Department in June 1990, and took over as police chief in 1996. The department has one other full time officer, Richard Bruns, and a part-time officer, Bill Burzlaff. Together, the three handle about 700 calls a year.
Those calls can vary from a simple dispute between neighbors to an investigation into drug activity and include traffic patrol, animal complaints, answering questions and assisting other agencies such as the Nobles County Sheriff's Office and the State Patrol. Adrian is also a member of the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force.
"Things can be quiet for a long time, then we get our share of crazy days," Langseth explained. "Those seem to come in bunches."
On a typical day, Langseth spends some time behind a desk handling the administrative duties that come with being the chief, but he and his officers try to patrol the school zones when the students are coming and going, get some traffic patrol in every day and work on any investigations they have on their plates.
"I'm juggling three of them right now," he stated.
In a small town, Langseth said the department deals with more community policing than officers in a larger area might.
"Someone not scooping snow, general property issues, answering questions about legal matters," Langseth listed. "We go to fire calls to assist with traffic, things like that."
Besides being the chief of police, Langseth is also a member of the Adrian Fire Department, and after 20 years in Adrian, he's a very recognizable face in the small town.
"In most cases it helps," he admitted. "People are aware of who you are, and there is a bit more of a comfort level in talking with them. Still, in some cases, it can be a hindrance."
He said he's rarely asked by someone accused of breaking a law to "cut them slack" or let them off just because they know him.
"We have policies that dictate what is required," Langseth explained. "And those follow state mandates."
In most police work, the officer at a scene has to make judgment calls and rely on his own discretion when it comes to making decisions, and the Adrian Police Department isn't any different. But knowing the town and the people in it can help make that decision easier, simply because the officers are aware of circumstances.
The biggest disadvantage to being on a small department is the hours he needs to stick around, even if he isn't at work.
"You get tied to the job a little more than you would at a larger department," Langseth stated. "It can limit what you can do during your off-patrol hours."
The Adrian Police Department gets dispatched out of the Nobles County Dispatch Center in Worthington. Smaller cases are handled legally by the city attorney, but a portion of the gross misdemeanors and all felonies are dealt with through the Nobles County Attorney's Office, as are all juvenile cases.
"We generate reports, then turn it over to the city or county attorney," Langseth said. "Then we sign the finished complaints."
The department also tries to work with the community on basic education opportunities, such as bike safety.
"We did a bike safety clinic a few years ago and intend to do one this summer," Langseth stated. "Not only does this give us a chance to talk to the kids about safety, but we can register all the bikes at the same time."
Having the bikes registered helps the officers who inadvertently left their bike at the ball field, in front of the library or at the park.
"You know how kids are," Langseth chuckled.
Another thing the department tries to emphasize in the community is that people can come to them with suspicions and reports.
"Even if they think it is nothing big. We'd rather know, and people in small towns know what doesn't look quite right," Langseth said.
Keeping a finger on the pulse of his community can take long hours, but he has no wish to move to a bigger department or town. He and his wife are raising their 6-year-old son in the small community, and intend to keep doing so.
The 20 years he has spent on the Adrian Police Department have been good ones, he said, and he has a supportive city council and community behind him.
The biggest problem he has had lately is more of a startle than an issue, he said.
"When I'm out on traffic patrol, every now and then I pull over a kid that was born the same year I graduated," he laughed. "That is a shock."