The post below was submitted by “Tazz”, a moderator of MN CopBlock, and features an interview with Kenyon, MN Police Chief Lee Sjolander recorded late last year. I’ve blocked quoted the submission from Tazz and added my own thoughts at the end of the post.
On July 24th, 2015, I started a journey that I didn’t know where it would take me. It was one of the hardest and scariest journeys to start, and quickly turned into one of the most rewarding.
Just days after the one year anniversary of seeing my wife brutally assaulted by police without provocation, I sat down to meet with a police chief in the little town of Kenyon, MN. He had popped up on my radar as I had increasingly became involved with the police accountability movement. He didn’t pop up out of his misconduct, but rather his involvement in what I will call a radical level of community policing.
I showed up in the early afternoon of a hot summer day. Anxious to wonder if I had been lead to believe a farce. Was it too good to be true? After all that I had seen in the last year, could I really trust a police officer? A chief at that? I typed a quick note on my Facebook, “Really nervous going into a meeting… prayer would be nice…”
Moments later Chief Lee Sjolander shows up in tote of two other officers. I walk into the PD with him and he starts to tell people that I am his “friend” from out of town. Things are a buzzing and I have no idea what the plan is, but I am quickly rushed out of the PD because Chief Sjolander obviously has a plan. He tells me to get in the passenger seat of the police car and he wants to take me around the city. He hasn’t even heard my story yet. Does he not realize that I don’t have a marvelous recent history with police?
Only a block away we stop. He tells me he’s got to do something and jumps out of the car. He walks over
to a little girl riding a little bike with a pink helmet and streamers on her bike. He bends down gives her a big smile and then gives her a coupon for a free ice cream. At that moment, it took everything that was in me to not break down in cry. Here was a man that was obviously so compassionate, in a role that I had come to learn had been so abused.
We drove around for what seemed like sixty to ninety minutes. He told me a lot of stories of his town. We talked to a number of people. Each one he introduced me as a friend from out of town. Eventually we wound up at dinner. I told him my story. The story of me doing something that I didn’t know was wrong. Subsequently, some officers decided to escalate the situation. In the end, an assault and wrongful conviction of my wife and myself pleading guilty to a felony so that I can spare my family the detriments of the sole breadwinner losing their job and going to jail to wait for appeal.
What was his reaction? Compassion. He acknowledged if that had that happened in Kenyon, it would have went down a lot differently and wouldn’t have resulted in injury to anyone.
I learned about the passion that he had for his community. I learned about the passion that he had for, not being a law enforcement officer, but a peace officer. I learned how he has numerous funds set up so that the community can help the community. Where there is a need, he chooses to solicit help rather than say, “Go away.” While he admits “enforcement” is a “small” part of his job, he finds that the majority of his job is to serve the public.
Today, I am proud to call this man a friend. Don’t get me wrong. I have not wavered on my stance of police accountability. In fact, if one thing that my relationship with Chief Lee has taught me, it is officers are truly left without excuse when it comes to abusing their authority. I have been taught at CopBlock, we are not anti-cop, and we are pro-accountability. We are for holding those that have shiny badges to the same standard that we would show our other fellows. Here is a man with the complete authority in town, yet with the right priorities and can sit down with Copblockers and have a great conversation.
On September 19th, 2015, both Andrew Henderson and I, on behalf of MN Copblock, returned to Kenyon to sit down with Chief Lee in an interview. We were able to discuss topics that include community policing, badges granting extra rights, advice for other departments and more.
Please watch this important interview. I think if this attitude of policing was embraced by many more departments, then we could see major changes with the rampant issues we find in today’s policing.
It does seem that Sjolander is a genuinely good person with noble intentions. He’s probably the definition of what people mean when they say, “if you want to do go, run for officer or become a public servant.” Basically, the change the system from within saying many of us CopBlockers hear regularly. And while I applaud this unorthodox style of policing one thing I would suggest is that he take this style of policing to the private sector. That’s right, I’m advocating changing the system from outside the system.
Why? Because at some point Sjolander will have to do what his ‘bosses’ tell him to do. Right now he has the Kenyon police department looking pretty good by helping children, assisting those looking for work and even helping families find pets via an adoption program. Yet, one day – like those sheriff’s out west recently did with the occupation of the Refuge – state or federal agents might come to his town. They will ask him for assistance, order him to do certain things and at that time he’ll be forced to do what they said. Or he’ll lose his job and become a criminal.
It would be a shame to lose all of that hard work to government bureaucracy because the government, though it claims to help people, simply doesn’t police in this fashion. Sjolander is truly a diamond in the rough and should strongly consider being the lead to revolutionize the service of protection. Kinda like “Threat Management” in Detroit.
That’s what I’d like to see, a police officer who realizes they don’t need to work for the government in order to provide protection services to individuals.
THREAT MANAGEMENT VIDEO by Pete Eyre: