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Bemidji Police Department Captain Bob Lehmann is retiring after nearly 30 years in law enforcement. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Bemidji Police Department: Bob Lehmann retires after nearly 30 years

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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

In October 1978, Bob Lehmann was driving through Hermantown, Minn., when he was stopped by a Minnesota State trooper for speeding.

The experience led him to consider a career in law enforcement.

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Lehmann, the captain on the Bemidji Police Department, now is retiring after nearly 30 years in law enforcement.

"It has really been a wonderful ride," he said. "I have enjoyed serving the citizens of Bemidji."

Lehmann graduated from Hibbing Community College in the spring of 1981 and took his first job as a police officer on Sept. 1, 1981, with the Benson Police Department.

He joined the Bemidji Police Department exactly one year later. He was named sergeant Sept. 15, 1992, and then captain Dec. 1, 2007.

Lehmann, whose last day is Monday, said he will have some mixed feelings as he retires.

"If you surround yourself with a lot of good people and offer training opportunities to make them even better people, it makes life easier for people in command," he said.

But he said he is looking forward to the next phase, noting that he has a lot of hobbies and would like to, perhaps, do a little bit of nothing for a while.

"I'm really going to work on dropping those four-foot putts," he said.

Lehmann had to testify only once in district court.

"We really don't go to court that often," he said.

If officers adhere to the ethics of the badge, use technology available and follow the policies in place, they shouldn't have a problem, he said.

"Treat them right," he said of lawbreakers.

Someone once told him that a speeding ticket is, often, an unintentional law violation. Lehmann said he has tried to keep that in mind as he has dealt with the public throughout his career.

"All human people make mistakes," he said. "The last thing they need is attitude at their window."

It could be just a reflex at the end of conversations, but, he said, many people say "thank you" after they are issued a ticket.

"I've arrested a lot of people - probably well into the thousands," he said, "but even with the so-called bad people you just have to make the arrest and move on. We have a job to do. Our job is to remain composed."

Many of the biggest changes in the industry throughout his career have been technological, Lehmann said.

Now there are people who eagerly await the newest iPhone; Lehmann laughed while recalling that he bought his parents their very first cordless telephone.

New police officers now would have no idea what to do during an older-time shift, when with a two-man car there might be one portable radio between the two officers, Lehmann said.

Now there are in-dash computers, cameras and video systems, cell phones, laptops and more.

In his earlier days on the force, Lehmann said officers were still using the Breathylizer to test possible drunken drivers. Later, once the Intoxilyzer came to Bemidji, only sergeants were allowed to operate it because of the weeklong training required. Today, 90 percent of the police force can operate the Intoxilyzer.

Aside from technology, there have been other changes, too, such as scheduling and training. When he was hired, Lehmann spent two weeks with a field sergeant. Now, new officers undergo a 12-week training period.

Crime has changed, too, throughout the last 30 years.

"It's way more violent," he said.

And more frequent.

Lehmann said it used to be that when an officer worked Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, he could spend Sundays catching up on paperwork and reports.

"Not anymore," he said.

Now, Lehmann said, Sundays often bring more crime, often more violent crimes.

It used to be that Bemidji and Beltrami County would get 12,000 to 14,000 combined law enforcement calls a year. Now, the Bemidji Police Department itself responds to more than 20,000 a year.

"When I first started, you wouldn't dream of having a DWI at noon or a pursuit at 10:30 a.m.," Lehmann said.

But, it happens. In fact, one of the vehicles in the department's fleet is a forfeiture from a DWI pursuit that occurred at 10:30 a.m.

Lehmann recalled one day when there were DWI arrests at 10:30 a.m. and noon, both with drivers with blood-alcohol concentrations higher than .25.

Lehmann for 17 years led bicycle talks with K-6 students throughout the city. He would spend time every spring going to classrooms and educating area children about bike safety.

He figured he spoke to more than 2,000 students before the talks were canceled due to overtime costs, which Lehmann said were minimal. Giovanni's Pizza offered free pizza for the students and the program included a coloring contest.

He also was one of the founding members of the Bemidji Bike Patrol, so Lehmann would bring his bike into the classrooms.

He said he, too, will miss the work being accomplished through Beltrami County's DWI Court. In its fourth year now, the program has had 18 graduates and will graduate another six next month.

DWI Court, a collaboration of law enforcement, prosecution, probation and the judicial system, is aimed at repeat drunken driving offenders. Participants commit themselves for 18-24 months to the intense supervisory program. They meet weekly with a probation agent, respond to unannounced yet consistent random alcohol checks and report biweekly to a judge.

Lehmann has been involved in the program from the beginning.

"It's a highly-focused, problem-solving court," he said. "We can't just keep putting (offenders) into jail and hope they come out as better people."

Lehmann also said he would remember the public appearances he made, such as the talks he gave to the Bemidji Driving School and chemical-dependency groups.

Lehmann shared several anecdotes and bits of information from his 30-year career, including:

E In his early days in Bemidji, he roomed with the firefighters, who gathered for breakfast together. There, they would quiz him about locations throughout town.

He still remembers them telling him that Bemidji is in Beltrami County in Minnesota in America and is located on the Mississippi River.

Which is the order of streets downtown heading north from the lakeshore.

He said he uses that same line to help new city residents and officers keep track of the downtown layout.

E On his fourth day of working in Bemidji, there was a murder in town. Lehmann spent that day securing the scene.

E Lehmann attended Hibbing Community College for law enforcement. His class in Hibbing began with 32 students; 13 graduated.

Lehmann graduated with honors with his two-year degree. And just a $1,800 student loan to pay off.

Now, though, he said, police departments are really pushing for four-year degrees. Some departments will hire graduates of two-year programs but give them timeframes during which to obtain a four-year degree.

It's virtually impossible now to be a chief without a four-year degree, he said.

Lehmann shared several anecdotes and bits of information from his 30-year career, including:

- In his early days in Bemidji, he roomed with the firefighters, who gathered for breakfast together. There, they would quiz him about locations throughout town.

He still remembers them telling him that Bemidji is in Beltrami County in Minnesota in America and is located on the Mississippi River.

Which is the order of streets downtown heading north from the lakeshore.

He said he uses that same line to help new city residents and officers keep track of the downtown layout.

- On his fourth day of working in Bemidji, there was a murder in town. Lehmann spent that day securing the scene.

- Lehmann attended Hibbing Community College for law enforcement. His class in Hibbing began with 32 students; 13 graduated.

Lehmann graduated with honors with his two-year degree. And just a $1,800 student loan to pay off.

Now, though, he said, police departments are really pushing for four-year degrees. Some departments will hire graduates of two-year programs but give them timeframes during which to obtain a four-year degree.

It's virtually impossible now to be a chief without a four-year degree, he said.

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Bethany Wesley
(218) 333-9200 x337
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