Hanging up his keys: Capt. Bruce Hentjes retires from MN State Patrol
Law enforcement has been a part of Bruce Hentjes’ life for as long as he can remember.
But Hentjes was the first to join the Minnesota State Patrol, in the fall of 1979, after a year with the Buffalo Lake Police Department in Renville County.
“My older brother later became a trooper, and my uncle did too,” he says. “They’re both retired now.”
And as of Tuesday Hentjes has joined them, turning in his badge and patrol car. After 35 years in law enforcement, 34 of them with the State Patrol — and 16 as captain — he is officially retired.
“I’ve got 35 years in,” Hentjes said Monday, as he was in the process of cleaning out his office. “I decided this was the right time to go.”
Not that there aren’t things he’ll miss.
“I know I’m going to miss the people I work with — my clerical staff, the command staff and all the troopers,” Hentjes said, adding that there are 35 troopers working out of the District 29 office in Detroit Lakes, where he has served as the commander since being promoted from lieutenant to captain in 1998.
“And I’m sure I will miss the excitement and the variety of everything — though probably not right away,” he added.
In fact, his immediate plans involve simply enjoying what’s left of the summer.
“My plans are kind of open after that — I don’t know what I want to do yet,” Hentjes said.
“There’s a whole list of things to be done around the house, and I have a new grandson that I’d like to spend some time with at some point.”
Hentjes has a wife and two daughters (both grown now), and spending time with his family will be a priority — including at least one visit to his eldest daughter’s home in Wyoming, where his grandson also resides.
One thing he does not intend to do is attend this year’s WE Fest. After covering the country music festival as a law enforcement officer for 24 years, he’s opting to sit this one out.
WE Fest weekend and July 4 are always the two busiest times for local law enforcement, Hentjes added. “You see so much, it’s kind of hard to describe all the things that happen.”
But Hentjes’ biggest culture shock upon arriving in Detroit Lakes, after spending his first 10 years with the State Patrol covering the metro area, was coping with his first winter here.
“That first blizzard that rolled in from North Dakota — 40-mile-per-hour winds with nothing to stop the snow — I’d never experienced anything like it before,” he said.
Now, of course, it’s old hat. But Hentjes does admit he won’t miss all the 3 a.m. phone calls that would require him to get out of a warm bed to go cover an accident in the middle of a snow storm.
“I won’t miss that at all,” he said.
He did enjoy the variety of his day-to-day duties, however.
“No day is the same,” Hentjes said. “Even working here in the office, anything can happen. It’s never boring.”
The job’s variety was one of the things that initially attracted him to the State Patrol — that and the fact he got to see so much of the countryside.
With a district that serves 10 counties — Norman, Mahnomen, Clay, Becker, Ottertail, Wadena, Todd, Douglas, Grant and Wilkin — Hentjes experienced plenty of time behind a windshield.
“I’ve always liked to drive, and I like helping people,” he said.
Speaking of windshield time, one of the biggest changes Hentjes has seen in his career has been the evolution of the squad cars assigned to the troopers.
“The technology has gone way beyond anything we had when I started,” he said.
“The radios, the computers… everyone’s got computers in their cars now. They tell you where you are and what’s going on all of the time.
“We used to have these full-size sedans with V-8 engines — the cars are a lot smaller now.”
The radio dispatch system has also changed significantly in the past couple of years, as the Detroit Lakes State Patrol dispatch office closed a year and a half ago, on Jan. 1, 2013.
“We’re all dispatched out of one place now — the Twin Cities,” he said.
And all the squad cars are now equipped with video cameras, Hentjes added.
Yet even with all the new technology that’s been added, “There’s still the human factor,” he said.
“You’re still face-to-face with people (when working on a case).”
There’s also a lot of inter-departmental cooperation among local law enforcement — the police officers, sheriff’s deputies and troopers. “We probably all work together more than just about anywhere else,” he said.
“We don’t wait to be called, everyone just heads out to wherever they’re needed,” Hentjes added, pointing to the Fargo-Moorhead floods of a couple of years ago as a prime example.
“We spent a few weeks over there, assisting Clay County.”
He added that “the people” have always been the best part of his job.
“I’m definitely going to miss them the most,” Hentjes said.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.