All hail to the chief....
LE MARS — For the first time in nearly 22 years, someone other than Stu Dekkenga will occupy the chief’s office at the Le Mars Police Department.
Dekkenga will hang up his uniform at the end of June, ushering in a new era.
Dekkenga started in Le Mars in 1979, after growing up in Sioux Center.
The Le Mars Police Chief never thought he would end up in law enforcement. In fact, he wanted to be a carpenter when he graduated high school.
“I waited until August and then I went to Western Iowa Tech. When I got into the registrar’s office, I said I’d like to sign up for the carpentry program. I’ll never forget this, he said, ‘I bet you would, it’s full for the next two semesters,’” Dekkenga said. “I just uttered the words, ‘What do you have open?’ because I had gone down there with the full intention that I was signing up to go to school. He started naming off all kinds of courses that were open and he said police science, and I stopped him and said, ‘sign me up for that.’”
“I had a really close friend who was a police officer in Sioux Center and his influence was the biggest thing that drew me towards law enforcement. It was a spur of the moment decision,” Dekkenga continued.
After two years at Western Iowa Tech, Dekkenga began his long career in Le Mars, working his share of long nights on the way to becoming chief.
“I was a patrolman and I worked the straight night shift for several years,” he said. “The night shift was two different shifts. It started at 9 at night till 6 in the morning for two days, and then two days of 11 at night till 8 in the morning. It was four days on, two days off.”
Dekkenga slowly worked his way up the ranks.
“I was promoted to sergeant, that was in 1980 something. From sergeant, I took a promotional test and I was promoted to captain. When I was in the captain’s position, the chief’s opening came up and I decided to apply for that,” he explained.
While the department hasn’t necessarily changed that much during Dekkenga’s career, going from 12 officers in 1979 to 14 currently, the way things are done certainly has.
“It’s really incredible how technology dictates how a lot of this job is done. You used to go to work and everybody carried their own clipboard and ticket book. Now, everything is computer based, accident forms, traffic citations, and traffic warnings,” Dekkenga said. “It really affects the way you’re able to do the functions of your job. It takes a lot of extra training to instruct people how to use the technology so that they can do the functions of their job. Thirty years ago, you pulled out a piece of paper and penciled in all the information.”
Dekkenga was quick to say technology has also been a big help for police.
“If we’re looking for information, we keep a records management database that has everybody we have dealings with,” he said. “There is a document in our database and it will tell us that person’s address, phone number, physical description, all kinds of things. Officers have that at their fingertips in their cars.”
After overseeing all that training and helping to incorporate technology into the department, Dekkenga decided June 2017 was a good time to call it quits on a storied career.
“This is really a profession that needs to have young bodies and young minds, that have maybe a little more energy,” he said. “When I gave the mayor my notice to retire, it really just felt like the right time. It was a sense of peace that I had. It’s time to let somebody else sit in this chair and deal with this and the community problems. In my case, I think a little change here will be healthy.”
Dekkenga and his wife, Karla, who is also retiring, will be painting the house and traveling to visit their three children in the Denver area.
“We’ve got a new granddaughter in Colorado, so one of our goals will be to get out to Colorado to meet her,” Dekkenga said.
Though he knows the time is right, Dekkenga said he will miss the strong bonds he has formed.
“I need to thank every person who’s worked in this office,” he said. “The only way I’m able to do what I do and remain sane is to have a good second person in charge. I’ve had a really close relationship with the sheriff, the fire chiefs we’ve had here, and I’ve had a good relationship with all the department heads.”
The person at the top of Dekkenga’s thank you list happens to be the person closest to him, with whom he will soon begin a new journey.
“She’s at the top of the list, by all means. What do I say about Karla? She keeps me balanced because when I come home and I tend to vent, the first question out of her mouth is, ‘how was your day?’ She has the gift of being able to reframe things,” Dekkenga said. “She really helps me process and put things away so I don’t fret.”
As he prepares to don the uniform for a final time, Dekkenga shared one of the many lessons he’ll take with him.
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is God is in control, not me. We wrestle about that quite often because I want to be in control,” he said. “I want to make a decision right now, but there are certain things I cannot control, I can only control the way I react to it.”
As for that spur of the moment decision in the registrar’s office all those years ago? According to Dekkenga, it’s one of the best he has ever made.
“It’s been very rewarding. I feel it has been honorable and I feel like, most days, I do the profession justice by trying to deliver to our community quality police service,” Dekkenga said.