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St. Paul Park police chief reaches milestone with city

St. Paul Park Police Chief Mike Monahan was honored by the city at a recent council meeting with a plaque commemorating his 30 years with the department. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

At 58, St. Paul Park Police Chief Mike Monahan was recently honored by the city for 30 years of service but says he's not ready for retirement.

Monahan still loves the job, he said in a recent interview. The day he dreads going to work is the day he'll hang up the uniform for good.

"Every day is different," Monahan said. "There's always something to learn, especially about human nature."

Most people think police officers do a good job, he said, and appreciate the work they do.

Raised in St. Paul Park, he joined the police reserves in 1974 when there were annual vegetable fights around homecoming, on Third Avenue near what was then St. Paul Park Junior High School.

It had long been a tradition for kids to gather and sling vegetables at each other, but it escalated into vandalism, according to Monahan, and needed to be stopped.

He and other reserve officers dressed like the youth and blended in to make arrests if vandalism occurred. The best deterrent, however, were road blocks where officers stopped youth from entering the city and the tradition ended.

Monahan intended to go into social work when he earned a sociology degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, with an emphasis on deviant behavior, but was drawn into police work instead. He took a job in the Menominee, Wis., police department in 1978 and stayed four years.

In those days, officers went for training after they were hired, but a lot of things were simpler then, he said.

He'd been on the job for 18 months when there was group of burglars breaking into pharmacies and medical clinics to steal drugs. They were career criminals, Monahan said. The gang of four men checked in to a local motel and two of them were dressed as women. The motel clerk swore to police that there were two couples.

One of them got a physical exam in the local clinic to scope out the layout of the building.

But during the clinic break-in, they failed to totally disconnect the burglar alarm that brought Monahan and a partner to the scene. Through a window, they actually saw one of them stealing the drugs.

Monahan, in pursuit of one of the burglars, came around a corner of the building and saw the suspect. The thief pointed a gun at him and fired. The bullet grazed Monahan's temple. With his gun already drawn, there was no hesitation, he recalled. He shot and killed the burglar.

It was the only time in his career that he killed someone.

"It's what we are trained to do," he said.

When he was hired by St. Paul Park in 1983, the situation was drastically different than it is now, he said.

There were no manuals and no training. He rode with other officers and observed.

"After six days, I got a set of keys to a squad car and a ticket book," he said. Now if he's going to be in a squad car, he's got a bag full of reports and a car computer -- far from just having to carry a ticket book.

Police are involved in many more areas and laws are much more technical and have many layers, he said. At one time, driving while intoxicated was not a felony. Now, there is a range of charges for the offense depending on the degree of intoxication and the circumstances.

Monahan believes there is more violence, including gun violence, than in the past. He said that crime, once seen only in cities, is coming to the suburbs.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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