More than 30 years after his police career began, Willmar chief hangs up his badge, gun
Willmar Police Chief Jim Kulset may have han-ded in his badge on Friday, but he got to take his gun home with him.
The retiring chief of was honored by the Willmar Police and Peace Officers Association, wh-ich purchased Kulset's service weapon, a .40-caliber Glock 22 handgun, from the city and had it engraved with his name and the dates of his tenure as chief. In turn, the officers bought the city a new gun to replace the gift.
"It's really nice," Kulset said Thursday morning in his office, which was getting pretty bare as he was cleaning out the files and shelves before his last day of work on Friday.
Kulset took some time to reflect on how much has chan-ged, and how much has stayed the same, in police work.
He started his law enforcement career in Morris, and continued since 1977 in Willmar, advancing through the ranks from a patrol officer, to an investigator, then to sergeant, captain and finally as the chief for the past 11 years.
When he started in Willmar, officers rode around in a car that only had a police radio, no AM radio, and a shotgun in the rack on the dash. Now, the equipment in a squad car -- the computer, on-board camera, digital lights, defibrillator and many other items -- is worth more than the car.
"The equipment and tools have changed tremendously," he said, recalling that when he interned with the sheriff's office in the early 1970s, officers used teletype to transmit vehicle information to St. Paul to verify ownership. Now, a few keystrokes and an officer can identify a vehicle, its owner and driver's license photo on the in-car computer.
"The technology makes us more efficient, which makes us more effective," he said.
It is still managing people -- communicating with officers within the department, building relationships between agencies and networking with other law enforcement agencies -- that are critical to the department's success, Kulset said.
"The men and women that work out there, they make it happen," he said.
Without Kulset, the department will include 33 sworn officers, one short of the usual 34 officers. Since the city is under a hiring freeze, it is yet to be determined if another officer will be hired. Cuts in funding have caused the department to trim its budget expenditures, but the chief expects public safety to remain a high priority.
"You can have nice parks and nice facilities, but if people don't feel safe using them, then what do you have," he said.
Capt. David Wyffels, a 32-year veteran of the local department, has been appointed as Willmar's next chief. His appointment was approved by the City Council earlier this month. Wyffels has been with the department since 1978 and served as captain since September 2000.