Honored for doing what he loves: Renville County sheriff's deputy recognized
OLIVIA -- Finding the right profession can be a long journey for some, but not for Jeff Nelson. All he needed was a few short rides in the squad cars of Minnesota State Patrol troopers to know that law enforcement was for him. A few weeks ago his...
OLIVIA - Finding the right profession can be a long journey for some, but not for Jeff Nelson.
All he needed was a few short rides in the squad cars of Minnesota State Patrol troopers to know that law enforcement was for him.
A few weeks ago his colleagues let him know in a big way that they felt the same way: The Minnesota Sheriffs' Association honored the Renville County sheriff's deputy as Deputy Sheriff of the Year in the state.
"I don't feel I deserve anything like that,'' Nelson said. "I just do my job. I feel I try to do it to the best of my ability every day.''
The officer added that he had been "utterly shocked'' when Sheriff Scott Hable first informed him of the honor.
Nelson, 28, said he discovered his passion for law enforcement when he went on ride-alongs with troopers as a youth growing up in Redwood Falls. To pursue his goal, he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at St. Cloud State University. While in college he took on a part-time job as a corrections officer in the newly opened Renville County Jail.
He started as a full-time patrol officer with the Renville County Sheriff's Office in 2012, and immediately landed a challenging assignment. The city of Bird Island had disbanded its police department and turned to the Sheriff's Office for law enforcement. Nelson won the trust and support of the community's residents by embracing a community-oriented policing approach, according to Sheriff Hable in his nomination of Nelson.
It was just one example of many in which Hable described Nelson as an officer who always performs "above and beyond'' the call of duty.
It starts with patrol work, where Nelson has proven himself to be one of the department's leading officers in removing unsafe drivers from the roads. Minnesota's Mothers Against Drunk Driving honored him with its "outstanding rookie'' award in 2013 for that work.
He's trained as a drug recognition evaluator to better identify drivers under the influence of drugs. He is also trained as an emergency medical technician and volunteers with the Olivia ambulance squad.
If the sheriff's phrase of "above and beyond" the call of duty conjures up images of TV-show drama, know that there is another side to it too. One of the things that has helped distinguish Nelson in his work is a dogged determination to solve crimes, even when it requires long, hard hours of tedious work.
That's what it took to identify a man who was later convicted in the theft of $100,000 worth of high-tech equipment from a trailer at a construction site. A computer geek by his own admission, Nelson followed up on what was termed a "very weak" lead. It led him to pore over countless pages of phone and computer records to match a phone number that eventually led to the defendant who pleaded guilty in the case.
Like "finding a needle in a haystack,'' is how Hable described it.
"I like starting a case and running with it,'' Nelson said. "It is a really cool process to start with something so small like an email address to go off of.''
Nelson's computer skills proved invaluable when investigators in the department tracked down a tip to a man suspected of possessing pornographic images of children. Investigators knew of one image. Nelson was able to analyze the suspect's jump drives found somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 pornographic images of children. The suspect is now serving a lengthy prison term.
This kind of investigative work, Nelson said, is not like the CSI drama from television, in which cases are solved in a span of 30 minutes. It can take weeks and sometimes months of waiting for companies to provide the phone and digital data being sought, he said.
But make no mistake. It is rewarding. "There's nothing like a feeling like that,'' he said of solving difficult cases. "(You) put that much time and dedication into something and solve it.''
He finds lots of reward in the day-to-day work of being a patrol officer too, even when that involves arresting people who are not very happy. Officers have to keep in mind the end outcome, knowing that the work keeps the public safe, he said.
"You know that you did the right thing at the end of the day,'' Nelson said.
Nelson knows this is the right profession for him.
"If you can go to work every day with a smile and be happy and not mad about what you do, I consider it a win,'' he said.