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Seeing the worst brings out the finest

MONTEVIDEO -- Small-town police work hasn't protected Sgt. Rohn Halvorson from seeing the worst of human nature.

His ability to keep bringing the best of human nature to his work is what led the Minnesota Department of the American Legion to honor the Montevideo officer with its 2010 Officer of the Year award.

He is one "highly ethical guy,'' said Montevideo Police Chief Adam Christopher of Halvorson.

The sergeant is a 30-year veteran of the force, but the chief said his experience and knowledge of the community is only a part of what makes Halvorson so valuable to the department. He's become a source of encouragement to younger officers. They see a veteran officer deal with all the bad that comes with the job and yet never sour on the work or its importance, the chief explained. Halvorson has a more difficult time explaining why the award came his way.

"I was really surprised,'' he said of the news.

Halvorson joined the Montevideo Police Department in 1980. He grew up on a farm in the Madison area, and said that he knew during his high school years that he wanted a career in law enforcement.

He joined the Air Force and later took advantage of the G.I. Bill to make possible his goal. He started his studies at the Willmar Community College and earned his four-year degree at Bemidji State University.

Halvorson said he wanted to work on a small-town department, in large part because he wanted to raise a family in a smaller, rural community that shared the kind of values he held.

Yet his start in small-town police work proved to be an eye-opening experience, he said. Small, rural towns face all the problems that large urban areas do, if only on a different scale.

"Things do happen here in Montevideo,'' he said.

He's dealt with it all, from heart-wrenching cases of child abuse to headline-grabbing stories of assaults and homicides. He was only seven years into his career when a fellow officer fatally shot an assailant in self-defense.

Halvorson said the job of policing has only become more difficult through the years, largely because officers are dealing with more crimes of all types than ever before. Alcohol and drug abuse have always played a large role in the problems society faces. The prevalence and availability of methamphetamine today has made the problems all the greater, he said.

For all the bad he sees on duty, he more than makes up for it off-duty by involving himself in community and family activities. He has served as a volunteer firearms instructor in the community for 28 years. He led the local Legion post as commander for two years, served as the local Boy Scouts' assistant master, and was one of most determined of the volunteers who built the Smith Park community park.

He and his wife, Paula, are parents to four children. Their youngest is still at home.

Halvorson's brother Rick is a sheriff's deputy in Lac qui Parle County, but Halvorson said none of his children plans to follow his path into law enforcement.

He has no regrets about his decision to carry a badge. He said he enjoys the challenges of a job in which no two days are alike. He takes pride in what he does each day, and readily recommends a law enforcement career to young people who may be considering it. "It's an honorable profession,'' he said.

Halvorson plans to retire this year. He was eligible to do so one year ago, but wanted to stay on and help the department's young officers get their careers started on the right path.

Chief Christopher said Halvorson is the last of a generation of veteran officers to leave the force in recent years, and will certainly be missed.

Halvorson will accept the officer of the year award during a ceremony in July in Rochester. He is the second from the department to be recognized with the award in recent years. Officer Jim Bowen, now retired, was a previous recipient.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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