American Legion taps Adams as officer of the yearPublished 11:14am Monday, July 16, 2012
It’s been quite the week for Steve Adams.founded
First, the Fergus Falls police captain tendered his resignation, effective Sept. 30. Normally, that would be enough for a 31-year veteran of the force who’s been with the department so long that his first service gun was a revolver.
“Then I got the letter about the officer of the year, and then my daughter got engaged,” Adams said, chuckling.
This week, Adams’ service was honored with 2012 Henkes-Mortensen Law Officer of the Year Award (the honor will be officially awarded during Monday’s city council meeting). Presented by the local American Legion post, the award is given in memory of former county sheriffs Jack Henkes and Carlton Mortensen.
“I can still remember when Mortenson was sheriff,” said Adams, adding that the men were successful sheriffs because they engaged the community.
“Really, it’s the public and the trust that you have with them that makes your career successful,” he said.
Adams, now 55, first became interested in law enforcement during high school. Raised on a small farm near Richville, Adams lost his father when he was 15, and Dent parish priest William Wey thought Adams could use a role model. Through Wey, Adams met sheriff’s office Lieutenant Roy Polensky.
Adams rode with Polensky and saw a job he could get excited about. He entered law enforcement training after high school and was hired by the Fergus Falls Police Department on Oct. 7, 1981.
“After a short training period, my first assignment was walking downtown at nights doing door checks,” said Adams. In a downtown then home to five or six bars and a few all-night gas stations, the area was significantly more active at night than it is now, and an officer was needed to make sure that businesses didn’t suffer break-ins.
About seven months after he got the job, however, the police switched to primarily squad car patrols with an emphasis on nighttime hours. Adams switched to traffic patrols, ending his tenure as the police department’s last ever downtown foot patrol officer.
Adams worked on traffic patrols (and worked with the department’s first-ever K9 unit) for the balance of the decade, at a time when drunken driving accidents were commonplace and drunk driving itself was looked on more forgivingly than it is today.
“In those days, you (pulled over) the one that was coming across at you on the other side of the road,” he said, adding that as far as he’s concerned, increased DWI enforcement has led to lives saved every day.
In the 1990s, Adams was promoted to sergeant and became an inaugural member of the Otter Tail County SWAT team, eventually becoming assistant commander. Though he has a few memories of dangerous situations the team responded to, Adams’ most harrowing SWAT memory was during training, when he had rappel down a five-story building.
“I’m not crazy about heights,” he said with a smile.
During the 1990s, Adams also became a community policing technical adviser, going around to many cities in the state to teach community policing techniques. Community policing is at the core of Adams’ law enforcement philosophy.
With the advent of more technology in the 1970s, said Adams, some in law enforcement got the idea that residents should just report problems for police to solve independently. Alternatively, community policing relies on cooperation between police and residents.
“The community is the one that really resolves its problems,” Adams said.
A prime example is a major two-year drug case he investigated as detective sergeant from 2003 to 2005. Police began following the trail of the case after a local bank teller called in some suspicious fund transfers to California.
“That led to a multi-state methamphetamine sales investigation,” said Adams.
Agencies from federal and multiple state governments got involved, eventually uncovering an operation that was trafficking about 100 pounds of meth – all because of a local person who saw something and decided to report it.
In late 2005, Adams was promoted to his current position of captain. Though he sometimes provides assistance on calls, he’s primarily office bound, doing a variety of managerial and communication jobs including working with the court system, investigation follow-up and media relations. He’s loved his job in every form it’s taken, but with a diligent police force, a semi-retired wife (former sheriff’s office employee Marlis) and an age bracket of common suspects that’s not getting any older, he feels it’s time to pass the badge on to the next generation and retire to his scenic home on the outskirts of town.
“The thing I remember the most and what kept me going day in and day out is just that relationship that we have with the community,” he said, thanking Fergus Falls residents for their help over the years.
Many years ago, Adams made a promise to himself: “If I ever hated putting that uniform on for any time, I would get out.”
He never did, but the time to get out has come nonetheless.