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Kandiyohi County Sheriff Hartog bows out after 38-year career

WILLMAR -- There's a saying that law enforcement is a calling rather than a job, and Dan Hartog felt the call when he was still a teenager. "It's something I always wanted to do," he said. Fast-forward 38 years to this week as Hartog retires from...

Dan Hartog this week ends a 38-year law enforcement career, the past 16 years as Kandiyohi County Sheriff
Anne Polta / Tribune Dan Hartog this week ends a 38-year law enforcement career, the past 16 years as Kandiyohi County Sheriff. Hartog was one of 22 Sheriff's Office employees when he started, and now the department numbers more than 100. Hartog points to growing population, increased call load and the opening of the new jail and law enforcement center as reasons for the growth of the department.

WILLMAR - There's a saying that law enforcement is a calling rather than a job, and Dan Hartog felt the call when he was still a teenager.

"It's something I always wanted to do," he said.

Fast-forward 38 years to this week as Hartog retires from a career that lasted almost four decades, including the past 16 years as Kandiyohi County Sheriff.

He has only good things to say about his time in law enforcement and four terms as sheriff.

"I've really enjoyed my career," he said. "I've enjoyed working with the people in Kandiyohi County and statewide. I'm really going to miss the contacts I've made over the years."

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The reins will officially be turned over next week to Hartog's successor, Eric Holien, a former Kandiyohi County deputy who was elected sheriff in November.

Hartog is one of more than 20 county sheriffs across Minnesota who are retiring with the start of the new year, many after lengthy careers in local law enforcement.

Fresh out of training at Ridgewater College, Hartog took his first position in Dodge Center, where he was part of a six-person department whose officers doubled as emergency medical technicians for the ambulance service.

"I learned a lot there," he recalled.

But his sights were set on Kandiyohi County, where he had received his law enforcement training and had completed an internship with the Sheriff's Office.

He liked the area and the people. "I thought this is where I really want to try to get a job," he said. "That was my goal - to get back here."

He was hired by then-Sheriff Larry Kleinhuizen in March 1981 as a road deputy. The next several years saw a steady progression upward as a detective, detective sergeant and then chief deputy, culminating in a successful run for sheriff in 2002.

Over the years he has seen enormous changes. When he first joined the department, he was one of 22 employees. Deputies took turns staffing the dispatch center. There was no 911 system. Detectives responding to crime scenes took photos with a 35 mm camera and brought the film to a one-hour photo shop for developing.

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The Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office today has a staff of 106, from deputies and detectives to civilian dispatchers, correctional officers and support staff.

Hartog lists some of the trends that spurred the growth of the department: A growing county population and an increasing call load, and the opening in 2001 of the new jail and law enforcement center, which more than doubled the capacity of the jail.

Technology has dramatically altered the landscape, and the evolution is ongoing. In just the past year the department upgraded the surveillance system and electronic door locks at the jail and began implementing body-worn cameras for patrol officers. In the coming year, text-to-911 will be enabled at the local dispatch center.

At times, technology - especially social media - has been a bane, Hartog admitted. Crash scene photos posted on Facebook before law enforcement has had time to notify family members can add to the family's trauma, he said.

It's also frustrating when social media users speculate about a crime while an investigation is ongoing, he said. "People are coming to all these conclusions when they're all wrong. People then use that information and judge. They believe that's the truth."

But although law enforcement can be stressful and challenging, Hartog would rather dwell on the positives.

Community partnerships such as Toward Zero Deaths and the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition are making inroads in traffic safety and underage alcohol and tobacco use, he said. "I think the most rewarding thing is working with the community."

He sees challenges ahead, especially with the ongoing issues of mental health and drug use, but says he's confident in the ability of the Sheriff's Office to meet whatever comes.

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"There's a lot of great talented people here," he said. "I think everybody knows their jobs and they know them well. What I always strived for was for us to be professional and treat the public with respect. We always want to try to be a leader in what we do and be the best we can."

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