Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm comes home again
As the chief of a small town police department in Moose Lake, Bryce Bogenholm is part law enforcement officer, part public relations director, part fund raiser and part office support staff - but he loves what he does, and that's what's made all the difference.
Bogenholm grew up in rural Moose Lake, where his parents operated a hobby farm on Tower Road and his dad was a police officer with the city of Moose Lake for 25 years.
"I always wanted to be a lot like him," Bogenholm said. "He got called out a lot and had to work shift work, but he'd come home and tell us about some of the stuff that was going on and it was pretty interesting. Sometimes he let me sit in the squad car and play with the lights and siren."
At Moose Lake High School, he was big into sports, playing both football and hockey and modestly admitting he had "a pretty successful football career." At offensive and defensive tackle, he helped his team win the Polar League championship his senior year. He credits coach Bob Yuso as being a role model for him.
"He was a hard-nosed, common sense, tell-it-how-it-is type of person," said Bogenholm.
At first, Bogenholm wanted to join the Marine Corps following high school, but he weighed around 280 pounds and after he went to see the recruiter, the man told him he'd have to lose 80 pounds.
"It was an astonishing amount of weight to lose, so I decided I wasn't going to be a Marine," he said.
His second calling was to go into law enforcement.
"I always kind of liked sticking up for the little guy," he said, "and to do what's right, even if it's not popular. I was taught a strong sense of values of what's right and what's wrong and to use common sense. I wish I had a nickel for every time my dad pounded that into me."
He spent two years studying law enforcement at Hibbing Community College and also played football there.
"We were really successful," he said. "My second year there we were undefeated, won the championship, and went on to play in the RC Cola Bowl in Ellsworth, Iowa."
Shortly after his graduation in 1992, he got on part time at the Carlton County Jail with the sheriff's office.
"Sheriff Dave Seboe was looking for a temporary fill-in person to keep an eye on a prisoner who had killed a girl in Cloquet and who was a high suicide risk," he explained. "They needed somebody just to sit and watch his cell. I was overjoyed just to have a job."
He started in June and for weeks he just sat and looked through the food tray slot and watched the guy. In the meantime, the coach at the University of Wisconsin Superior recruited him to play football, so he decided to give it a try and keep working part time. He earned a starting spot as a defensive guard but, after their second game, the school decided to shut down the football program.
"I figured this was definitely a sign from God saying my football career was over!" he said with a grin.
He continued working part time for the department for another three years doing "a little of everything," and eventually got the chance to fill in on a road spot for a year.
"I loved it," he said. "It was a dream come true. I was 20 years old - not old enough to drink but I was out there arresting drunks!"
He was also hired as a part-time officer in Moose Lake. The first summer he was there, in 1993, he was working the night Carlton County Sheriff's Deputy Erv Clemens got shot by a man with a history of mental illness issues.
"I took the call that shots had been fired up on Highway 73 near Soo Hill," he related. "I was the first officer on the scene. I parked a couple blocks away and the man came out of the house and shot a couple of times, so I took cover and called for backup. You learn really quickly about the brotherhood of law enforcement, because they came from all over and we set up a perimeter. A couple of my good friends were real close to the house when it went bad. The shooter had his dad in the house, kind of as a hostage, and when his dad came outside, a couple of officers went to help him out. The man shot Erv and just missed another officer. I was right there, just 20 feet away. I had known Erv all my life. He lived in Moose Lake, and I went to school with his kids. It was a rude awakening and really sad, but just the support of the community really made me feel proud of what he did and proud of what law enforcement does.
"At the time," Bogenholm continued, "I didn't really know what post-traumatic stress was," he admitted. "I remember one time after that, sitting at my house and watching an episode of 'Cops.' A police officer got shot and I just broke down and started crying."
As a result of the incident, the county started an emergency response team, somewhat like a SWAT team, and Bogenholm was one of the founding members. He went on to become a team leader and for the last 10 years he served as commander.
"We'd get called out two or three times a year for things such as dangerous drug search warrants or people with guns," explained Bogenholm. "People don't always realize just what goes on in a small town."
In 1995, he was hired full-time with the Cloquet Police Department and immediately joined the dive team as well. When the high-profile Paul Antonich kidnapping and homicide occurred, law enforcement got information that the gun had been thrown into the St. Louis River Bay, near the Blatnik Bridge. The dive team was sent in and spent several days diving to look for the weapon, and Bogenholm was the one who ultimately found it.
"It was under terrible water conditions," related Bogenholm. "I had a light that would illuminate just a foot or so in front of me, and I came across a sock with the outline of a gun inside it. I grabbed it and thought, 'Holy cow!' We didn't have communication gear back then. If we found anything, we were supposed to pull on the line three times, and I almost pulled the guy into the water! I shot up to the surface and held the gun up to show everyone. It was neat to have been the one to have come across it because it really was a key piece of evidence that led to the conviction of all four of them."
One time he had to help a retrieve a body that went through the ice on Lake Vermilion.
"It was almost 30 degrees below zero that day," he recalled. "They took us out on the ice in a snowmobile and had a little hut set up over a hole in the ice. I had a lot of dives under my belt by then, but I hadn't done a whole lot of ice diving. It's a weird feeling - kind of like controlled terror. You really have to concentrate on the task at hand. It was so cold one of my regulators froze open so my air was going out, though I could still breathe. I could see the guy down there in about 20 feet of water, and I decided I could make one shot to see if I could get him before I ran out of air. I was kind of watching my air gauge, but thankfully I got him out. I was wearing a dry suit, but I was soaking wet anyway."
He was also involved in the search for Katie Poirier.
"One nice thing about this area is that all of the agencies really bend over backward to help each other because there's just not that many of us," said Bogenholm. "Cloquet sent me down there and said to use me wherever they needed me. We dove in Echo Lake because they thought her body might be in there. We also spent several days leading volunteers through the woods and along the roads searching for her. That was quite a summer."
He worked in Cloquet for 10 years before going back to the sheriff's department in 2005.
"I always had the dirtiest squad car in the department," he said with a laugh, "because I liked to hit the back roads. They used to point out that I didn't have a whole lot of traffic stops, but my felony arrests were way up there because of the burglaries and that type of thing."
In the meantime, he married Julie Vincent, who grew up near Automba, and they had three children: Olivia, Annika and Blake. They bought an 80-acre cattle farm east of Moose Lake and lived in the little farmhouse until they built their dream home a year and a half ago. Now, their summer hours are filled with harvesting hay, doing chores and traveling to horse shows throughout the summer, where Julie and both their daughters ride.
"[Growing up on a farm] is good for the kids," said Bogenholm. "It really teaches them a work ethic and what it's like to get dirty and sweaty and exhausted."
When Bogenholm learned that long-time Moose Lake Police Chief Dale Heaton was going to retire two years ago, he gave serious consideration to applying for the position.
"I thought it would be an interesting change of course in my career, and a good way to get off shift work which was really killing me, especially with three kids, because I never got much sleep," said Bogenholm. "There were tradeoffs, because the sheriff's office is really top notch, but for the most part, it was an excellent move."
Bogenholm now heads up a staff of three full-time officers and a handful of part-time officers, with no office support. They do that themselves, typing their own reports and filing.
"You have to wear a lot of hats," he attested. "It's a busy little town, and in the summer the population practically doubles."
With the 1,200-bed prison and the 500-bed Minnesota Sexual Offenders Program, the Moose Lake Police are sometimes called in to handle some of the emergency situations, as well as to write up all of the reports to be forwarded to the county attorney's office.
"It's a ton of paperwork," he attested.
Just recently, Bogenholm received word that he and his department were the winners of Lake Country Power's Touchstone Energy Community Award and a grant of $500 for their involvement in and support of the community.
"We have such a small budget, we have to try to apply for grants to help out," said Bogenholm. "We are trying to upgrade our radios and phone system, so I applied for the grant and was overjoyed to hear we got it."
Bogenholm has been very active in the TRIAD group, an organization to bring senior citizens together to discuss community issues and help them protect themselves from scams and other sorts of fraud. The department is also active on the National Child Safety Council to help provide learning tools for kids on such things as drug education, and Bogenholm often talks with kids in the schools and in other youth organizations about such things as substance abuse, drinking and driving, texting when driving and "sexting."
He said when you're in local law enforcement in a small town, you're always running into people in the grocery store or somewhere else that you've had to arrest.
"I always like to stop and take the time to talk with people, especially if they have a complaint or gripe," he said. "That's just part of what I do, explain our procedures and why we do things a certain way."
Bogenholm will reach his 20th year in law enforcement this June, and he believes that's where he was intended to be.
"I've really been blessed," he reflected. "I'm not a super-religious guy, but I do believe in God and that He directs you in the path He wants you to go. There have been many times when I've wondered, 'Is this what you want me to do?' and I decided I had to leave it in His hands and go with my instincts."