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Police Chief looks back on career with police department

A final interview with Wade Lamirande as Cloquet’s Chief of Police is reflective of his career both in content and in style.

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He is organized, although not obsessive. He has a list of topics he wants to cover — staff, family and friends, challenges, mile markers — but no canned statement. He is open to questions, thoughtful and honest in his answers. Earnest but easy going.

Born and raised in Cloquet, Lamirande is a hometown boy who never stopped trying to better himself and his police department, through education, technology and searching for the best way to accomplish the goal of serving and protecting.

When he took over as police chief in December 2003, the department didn’t have a school resource officer. It didn’t have a canine (K9) program. It didn’t have a drug recognition expert (DRE), a computer lab (for investigating computers or cell phones). There was no Citizens Police Academy or Shop with a Cop program. The Chaplaincy program didn’t exist yet (made up of pastors and deacons, they help officers give grief notices, act as a resource for grief in the community or for officers to get any help they may need).

Now the department has all those things — Detective Derek Randall is one of only a handful of DREs in the state and his skills with computer forensics are utilized by many area law enforcement agencies — and more.

It wasn’t always easy.

“The initial years were make or break for me,” said Lamirande. “If I hadn’t had support from [City Administrator] Brian Fritzsinger and numerous council members and the mayor … I knew it was going to be a challenge.”

In addition to updating the department, he needed to change the culture.

There were staff issues, he explained, “a number of complaints had been generated,” and an attitude or lack of trust within the community.

“We had a younger department, and I include myself in that,” said Lamirande, now 50. “It often takes officers time to realize that they are considered different in the eyes of the community they serve. They’re held to a higher standard, on and off duty. And in a smaller community like this, everybody knows who they are. So they have to remember that, and behave in a way that will bode respect. It can take just one bad move by an officer to undermine [a community’s trust].”

How effective he’s been is evident when talking to Detective Darrin Berg about Lamirande’s pending retirement.

Berg said there were “growing pains” in the beginning, but noted that Lamirande was driven.

“He always wanted to make himself better through knowledge; he was always learning how to become a better, stronger department,” Berg said. “I think we have a much, much better department today than 15 years ago.”

Lamirande talks about how the entire department has worked and continues to work to foster good working relationships with its partners in the community — the hospital, schools, the county’s Health and Human Services department, city councils, the business community — as well as its partners in law enforcement.

Those efforts have paid off. In a recent assessment of the police department, the consultants — professional law enforcement officials themselves — were “taken aback by all the positive relationships with the council and community partners.”

“He said they hadn’t heard that kind of feedback in other communities and that we should be proud of that,” Lamirande said. “He said if we could sell that, it would be worth its weight in gold.”

Again, he stresses how achieving that kind of change was only possible because of efforts by the entire police department, not just him, and lots of help from outside.

“Of the significant changes we’ve been able to make at the police department, very few have been my idea alone,” Lamirande said. “The Citizens Police Academy was a proven program that builds community support — I learned about that at the FBI [National Academy, where he attended leadership training in 1999].”

Lamirande also tried hard to make the department as effective as possible, in part by utilizing technology.

When he took over, there weren’t functioning laptop computers in the squad cars. Now every police vehicle has a computer, GPS, radar, digital camera (that automatically downloads via bluetooth technology as the car enters the police department garage), even a printer that spits out tickets and warnings right there in the squad car. Officers use Dragon technology, which writes reports as they talk, something Lamirande said has made them more efficient and the reports more professional.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of looking for the next thing and figuring out if there is a way, if it made sense to help us improve on delivering services,” Lamirande said. “The unfortunate side [of technology] is all those things need to be maintained. You can’t just buy it and forget about it.”

As Berg noted, Lamirande is also a big advocate of education, both for himself and the people who work for him. Lamirande got his master’s degree in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State in 2010, in addition to completing numerous work training and/or professional development training sessions.

“The master’s degree really gave me additional tools to do my job more effectively here,” Lamirande said. “It helped me know the changes I was making were on the right track, and it gave me the confidence to persevere through some difficult resistance that comes with trying to change a culture.”

At the same time, he has sent a number of staff and supervisors to higher level supervisory training over the years, so they could understand the changes he was pushing for and “to help change the momentum in a positive direction,” he said.

“One of the most rewarding things has been the positive changes internally with the staff,” Lamirande said.

He also derives great satisfaction from looking back at what he calls the “markers,” big community events, accidents or criminal cases that caused a lot of stress at the time but form a timeline to his career:

  •  The Halloween storm of 1991.
  •  The benzene spill and cloud in 1992, which happened five miles south of Superior and forced close to 50,000 people to evacuate their homes and businesses … but not in Cloquet, although that was a possibility for awhile. Lamirande said he ended up directing traffic on North Cloquet Road for about 12 hours that day.
  •  The city of Cloquet Centennial celebration and the all-school class reunion, along with a last-minute visit from Presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
  •  The grand event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station in 2008.
  •  When the Hells Angels motorcycle club picked Carlton County for an annual summer gathering in 2009.

“It’s nice to look back and know we were able to handle events like that and no one was hurt,” he said. “Again, no one does that by himself.”

He likes the thought that, in his way, he has been able to repay the teachers, friends and family who helped him when he was younger, by helping make Cloquet a safer place, despite increasing challenges.

“It’s been an honor to be Chief of Police in my hometown,” he said.

Growing up here and spending most of his career in his hometown has been nice in a couple different ways. It has kept him close to a very supportive family, his parents and siblings included. And it’s kept him in touch with friends he’s known since he was a boy.

“My friends from high school kept me grounded,” he said.

Those high school friends include his wife, Tammy, who was his high school sweetheart.

He said the job has put a lot of pressure on Tammy and their children (Katie, 23, Kellin, 20 and Alec, 18).

At the same time, they have been his greatest supporters.

“I have relied heavily on Tammy,” he said, noting that his police career in Cloquet started in 1990. “She supported me when I went to get my master’s degree; she supported me early in my career and when I was a detective with crazy hours and drug cases that went on into the wee hours, not knowing when I was going to get home. It was very hard on her.”

Lamirande said it wasn’t easy for his kids either, because they ended up being held to higher standards, just because their dad was a cop.

Another high school friend is Terry Hill, who has been in lockstep with Lamirande since high school practically. The two men graduated high school together, worked at Super One in Cloquet and then Duluth together, attended UMD together, worked at Northwood’s Children’s Home as child care counselors at the same time and were hired within two shifts of each other at the Cloquet Police Department. Hill has been deputy chief alongside Lamirande for the past 10 years and plans to retire in August, after serving as interim police chief for the next three months.

Hopefully the city will have hired a new police chief by then.

The city of Cloquet has begun a national search process to find a replacement for Lamirande, but it’s in the early stages yet.

Lamirande said he’s happy leaving the department in Hill’s hands in the interim. And he’s happy to leave and move on to his next adventure: running the law enforcement degree program at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College after Scott Lyons retires this summer.

Berg said the new chief will have big shoes to fill.

“I think he set the bar pretty high,” Berg said. “And I think it leaves the next chief with a department that is structurally sound.”

Lamirande would have to hope the next chief has the same kind of support system he’s had.

“I could not be in the position, or any job like this, without them,” he said. “You don’t get there on your own and you don’t stay there on your own, without the support of many around you.”