by Peter Bodley
Retirement for Coon Rapids Police Officer Dick Lafean is “bittersweet.”
After more than 32 years on the job, Lafean’s last shift as a police officer was Dec. 30.
“It just seemed a good time for a change,” Lafean said.
A retirement reception for Lafean took place Jan. 5 at the Coon Rapids Police Department at which time Police Chief Brad Wise presented him with a plaque for his years of service to the Coon Rapids community.
Following cake and coffee at the police department, there was another reception for Lafean at the Harvest Grill.
Born in Denver, Colo., Lafean moved with his family to the Twin Cities in 1966 and graduated from Wayzata High School in 1974.
He attended Bemidji State University knowing he wanted to go into a law enforcement career, graduating in 1978.
Right before he went to college Lafean did a ride-along with the Plymouth Police Department and that piqued his interest in a law enforcement career, he said.
While at Bemidji, he interned at the dispatch center in Bemidji for eight months, then got some experience with the Hopkins Police Department before joining the Coon Rapids Police Department as a patrol officer Sept. 17, 1979.
“The 32 years went by fast,” Lafean said. “I have had a lot of experiences and met a lot of great people.”
“I have also seen a lot of things that I wish I had not.”
The worst of those was a triple fatal accident at Coon Creek Boulevard and 131st Avenue the early morning of Thanksgiving Day 1991, according to Lafean.
He was almost at the end of his night shift when the accident call came in, Lafean said.
“That was horrendous,” he said.
But the good has far outweighed the bad in Lafean’s 32-plus years with the department.
Indeed, Lafean counts as one of the highlights of his career his 20 years as an instructor in the DARE (Drug Enforcement Resistance Education) program, which Coon Rapids Police teach to fifth-graders in Coon Rapids elementary schools.
“It has really been a high point working with the kids,” Lafean said.
Lafean’s introduction to the DARE program came quite by chance.
Retired Coon Rapids Police Chief Steve Wells, then a sergeant supervising the DARE program, approached Lafean in late 1991 while they were both at the police department coffee machine and asked him if he wanted to take the two-week DARE training course, according to Lafean.
“I thought about it, took the two-week school in December 1991 and liked it,” Lafean said.
Lafean was the DARE instructor at Sand Creek Elementary School, Coon Rapids, for all 20 years of his involvement in DARE and it was an emotional time when he announced his retirement from the program at the Sand Creek graduation ceremony last spring.
He also taught the DARE program for 18 years at Mississippi Elementary School and 15 years at L.O. Jacob Elementary School before the school closed as an elementary school at the end of the 2010 school year.
“Dick has a lot of time for kids as shown by his work in the DARE program for so many years,” Wise said.
Most officers spend only five, sometimes as long as 10 years, in the DARE program, he said.
“But Dick loved it so much,” Wise said.
According to Lafean, the benefits of the DARE program are that it teaches fifth-graders to say no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, while boosting their self-esteem, and it also puts a human face on a police officer.
Working with kids and teachers in the DARE program has been “one of the most gratifying things for me” as a police officer, Lafean said.
In his years as a police officer, Lafean said he has seen police work change a lot from technology, but some people he has encountered as a patrol officer in recent years are more “confrontational,” he said.
But he has been thankful that he has never had to fire his gun at a fellow human being during his years as a police officer, Lafean said.
Lafean has also “taken a lot of pride” in his responsibility with the police department of helping set up the squad cars with the necessary equipment and “keeping them out there” running properly, he said.
But what makes his retirement particularly bittersweet is leaving the “dedicated group of people” who make up the police department, Lafean said.
“They are all family,” he said.
His final shift, which began Dec. 30 and finished the morning of Dec. 31 began busy, “but calmed down after 2 a.m.,” he said.
According to Wise, Lafean “is an outstanding guy who made a commitment to serve people” as a police officer.
Not only that, Lafean has been involved in the community as a youth sports coach, especially hockey, and continues play hockey himself, Wise said.
Lafean has no immediate plans for retirement, other than to go to Red Lake for some ice fishing, he said.
“But I will have to start searching for a new career,” Lafean said.
At this point, he said last week “it still feels like I am on my days off,” he said.
“I’ll see what next week brings,” Lafean said.
Lafean and his wife Nancy, who he met at Bemidji State University, live in Coon Rapids.
They have two children, Chris and Kelly, both of whom graduated from Coon Rapids High School and have gone on to college at Bemidji.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]