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Capt. Goecke says goodbye to DL force

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

He may be the last Detroit Lakes police captain.

Paul Goecke retired on Friday, March 30, and the police force will essentially replace him with two sergeants, for a total of three sergeants.

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Goecke, 55, has been on the force since 1979. He has worked under four police chiefs -- Larry Pearson, Al Tyge, Walt Tollefson (now on the city council) and Kel Keena -- and was hired a few months before John Bellefeuille, who is also retired from the force and is now a county commissioner.

Treating people with respect and giving them the benefit of the doubt, at least initially, have gone a long way toward making Goecke's work life a happy one.

He credits the sergeant who trained him in, Leroy Gunderson.

"Gundy taught me to listen and to talk to people," Goecke said. "His philosophy, which I adopted, involved his favorite saying -- 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.' I give people the benefit of the doubt -- the first time. It's human nature, you want to look at people's best side."

Of course, once that trust is gone, it's difficult to win back. "My other philosophy is 'what goes around, comes around,'" he said. "Things tend to catch up to people."

All that being said, Goecke still used his instincts and took things on a case-by-case basis. Every day brought a different challenge, he said.

"There have been times I've just grabbed people and 'cuffed them and stuffed them' (into a patrol car), so to speak. Every incident is different."

He has never had to shoot anybody, but has been in some touchy situations.

"I've had people pointing a weapon at me at times, and I've pointed my weapon at others -- but I never had to put that pressure on the trigger..."

In those situations, he was always able to persuade people to submit to peaceful arrest.

But what he is most proud of, and most enjoyed doing, was working with kids in the Detroit Lakes school system, first as a bicycle safety and stranger awareness (Red Flag, Green Flag) instructor and later as the city's first Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) instructor.

"I always enjoyed working with the schools so much that way," Goecke said.

During the Gulf War, his Army Reserve unit was called into action, so he was not able to teach DARE to his son at Washington School and Rossman School.

He credited Jim Granger, Marsha Potvin, Paul Ness, Fred Floan and other educators with helping support the DARE program.

"Linda Livingston, Tim Eggebraaton and Michael Engum all taught DARE with me over the years," he said.

"The fun thing about that program is we ended up hooking up with Doc Wething ... in the spring we'd go to the airport and the kids would have a chance to go for a flight around the area," Goecke said. The "Young Eagles" group continued for a while after the DARE program ended in Detroit Lakes, he said.

The police liaison officer to the DL school district is now in charge of drug education.

Goecke was born in Milwaukee, and moved to Fargo with his family when he was 13. He met his wife, Stephanie, at First United Methodist Church when they were both in high school -- he went to Fargo South, she to Fargo North. Both graduated in 1970.

They've been married 33 years and have two children: son Geoffrey works in the meat department at Central Market and daughter Breanne works for a mortgage loan company in Fargo.

After high school, Goecke attended North Dakota State and Moorhead State universities, and Stephanie obtained a degree in social work from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

In 1974, as the U.S. military switched to an all-volunteer force, the Goeckes decided to join the Army together. They served in Anchorage for four years, then Paul went back to NDSU on the GI Bill. He joined the Detroit Lakes Police Department after testing the best of the pool of applicants in 1979.

The toughest part of the job for Goecke has been dealing with the aftermath of serious auto accidents -- though fortunately there are fewer of them now than when he first started, because cars and highways are both better designed for safety.

Another difficult part of the job has been requests to check on people.

"Also sad are the welfare checks," he said, "when you found out they passed away alone at home, and it's been however much time since someone called or thought they should be checked on. And I'm not fond of death notifications -- they should always been done in person and done in the gentlest way possible."

But all in all, Goecke said, police work has been a fulfilling career.

"I've got to work with a lot of great people -- not only in my department but the sheriff's department and the state patrol, plus our other smaller communities -- Frazee, Lake Park, Audubon.

"It's been fun. The community has been very good to my family and I over the years, and I hope I've given back to the community what they expected out of a law enforcement officer."

He'll be looking for part-time work to keep busy, he said, but nothing involving wrenches or complex parts.

"I might keep my hand in law enforcement, or you might see me clerking behind the counter of a convenience store or a golf course," he said. "But it won't be anything mechanical, because I've got 10 thumbs. That's why I went into a job where I can talk to people."

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