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Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson retires after 35 years

After 35 years in law enforcement, Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson retired from the force June 30.

"So, I put one leg out of the car, and that's when I discovered that I forgot to park it. The car started rolling across the lady's lawn, with me half inside, trying to hold on and stop the car. I finally grabbed the shifter and parked the car, got out and asked 'What's the trouble, Ma'am?' She looked at me like there was no way I could help her."

Retiring Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson has 35 years of experience as a police officer. He has been the Police Chief of Perham for seven years, and was simultaneously Police Chief for the New York Mills Police Department for four years. While not all of his stories are as funny as being pulled across a woman's lawn, they are definitely not all dark and sad "like all the books you see today written by cops."

In fact, Nelson hopes to write his own book during retirement, with lighter, funnier stories about being a police officer that most people don't get to hear. But that's not all he's planning on doing during his retirement.

"I'm definitely staying busy. I've been asked to broker trips to Africa, as I have hunted there several times. I've also been asked to be a guest teacher, at least part of the time. I'm not going to run out of things to do. If you aren't moving forwards, you're moving backwards," he says.

There will be things he will miss about being a police officer. A self-proclaimed "student of the human animal," Nelson will miss interacting with people on a daily basis. He finds people "fascinating," and one of the things he loves about the job is seeing so many different kinds of people.

Some of those people did make his job difficult, though. Nelson explains, "There will be people coming in and expecting me to fix their lifetime of bad choices in five minutes, with the magic wand they think I have. I don't have a magic wand."

Looking back on his experience since when he first started, Nelson believes that attitudes have changed drastically, especially with what people want from their police officers. "When I first started, people called me when their lawnmower was stolen," he says. "Now people call me when their lawnmower doesn't start. People depend a lot more on government services now than they used to."

Because of that dependability, Nelson thinks that there are some things that people entering the police force need to learn. Patience is just one of those things. Effective communication is another.

"It's not just chasing down the bad guys. It's communicating to all walks of life, and you need to know how to interact with folks. The inability to speak and write well will jeopardize your career," Nelson advises. He also believes that younger, newer police officers need to learn to be accessible to all people. "Young officers need to get out of their car and know people more."

He believes that the police force has become isolated from everyone in the community--and this is a big mistake. "We need to always be approachable to the public," Nelson says.

Other than patience and communication, Nelson believes that every police officer has to learn what works for him/her. "Police work isn't a factory job; there's more than one right way to do it. Everyone just needs to polish their craft," he comments.

Because of this belief, Nelson never yells at anyone in the Perham Police Department, especially younger officers. "Nobody goes to work wanting to do a bad job," he says. "I'll talk to them later and ask if there was a better way to get what they wanted, which helps them hone their own skills."

After all, little mistakes can be made. When Nelson was a young officer, he took a job in a county he was unfamiliar with. While he was out one night patrolling, he soon discovered that he was in the wrong county. "As a police officer, I couldn't exactly go into a gas station and ask how to get back into my own county," says Nelson, laughing at the memory. Eventually, he found his way back, but when he was asked why he was late, he answered, "I stopped to help a lady change a tire."

It was an exciting career for Police Chief Brian Nelson. A retirement party was held in his honor on Thursday, June 24. Community members turned out to wish him luck on all his retirement endeavors, and celebrate his years of service with the police force.

With his characteristic good sense of humor, storytelling expertise, and approachable demeanor, even in retirement Nelson should keep plenty busy interacting with the unequivocal variety of people this area has to offer.