An Officer and a Gentleman

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Discovers his niche with kids

Pete "Officer Friendly" Erickson will retire from the Storm Lake Police Department this July, after serving in the law enforcement field for 33 and one-half years.

Ever since he was a teenager he has been interested in police work and finding ways to reach out to young people. He recalls taking part in a driver's education course at Albert City School, led by local trooper Ray Kurtz. Kurtz' knowledge made a huge impression on Erickson, and he soon began to investigate the law enforcement profession.

As a 17-year-old high school graduate, Erickson attended Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge in the two-year law enforcement program. He sent out "about a hundred" applications seeking a place to begin his career. His first job was with the Iowa Falls police force, and since the city operated an ambulance as well, he took the opportunity to pursue training as an Emergency Medical Technician as well.

On the street beat in Iowa Falls, he found himself arresting college-age residents - people about his own age. "We saw a little of everything back then," he said of his early years.

It was in the first years that he came up with a motto that he has practiced throughout his entire career: "Treat people with respect and they'll treat you with respect," he says.

After several years, he wanted to get closer to family, and took a job in 1979 as a Storm Lake Police Department officer.

He worked with Chuck Eddy, who now serves as the Buena Vista County Sheriff and with Joe Hoye, now retired after serving the community for a number of years.

He loved the everyday work of an officer but discovered a real love of becoming an educator shortly after his Storm Lake career began. It was in 1983 that former Police Chief Ed Gross asked Erickson if he would head up a new program called Officer Friendly, that would teach children not to be afraid of police officers and to let them know police officers are friends and are very helpful.

He jumped at the opportunity. Since that time he has been going into all kindergarten through third grade classrooms in the community and presents a 30-60 minute program. The kindergarten children get the opportunity to check out the squad car.

The Storm Lake Hy-Noon Kiwanis helps fund the program which provides booklets for all the children. At the completion of the presentation, all students receive a certificate of completion.

A decade later, Erickson became certified as an officer for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which teaches students how to avoid peer pressure and how to say "no" to drugs and alcohol. D.A.R.E. has been taught in the school system for 11 years; hundreds of students have graduated from the program.

About six years ago, he added another part to his job. He was asked by Chief Mark Prosser to serve as the School REsource Officer. In this position, Erickson has dealt closely with all the school in the district (Storm Lake, St. Mary's and Concordia). He makes visits to the schools, making himself present for the students to see and serves as a resource to all teachers. He has served as a guest speaker in a number of classrooms, talking on such topics as drug and alcohol abuse. He has been interviewed a number of times by high school students completing their required "career paper", giving students an idea of what a police officer does for a community.

He is pleased to say a number of Storm Lake High School graduates he has seen grow up have become part of the law enforcement world; he keeps in touch with a number of them. "I hope they enjoy their work as much as I do," he said.

Erickson also serves as the truancy officer, dealing with students who are habitually tardy or absent from school. and many times with their parents.

"Kids need to be in school getting their education, not on the streets," he said.

He truly enjoys his job.

"Never, ever are the same things going on in a day," he said. He likes that part of the position. But it's seeing the kids that he has relished the most.

"Where else can you go to get kids on their way to life rather than in school? The kids are great." In the Officer Friendly class, he said, the younger students are "always inquisitive and ask what my job is. That's where the rapport begins, getting them to know we're not enemies, we're friends."

There are also drawbacks to the job of a police officer.

"Giving bad news to people and having to give them tickets because they broke the law or telling them they will have to go to jail. I explain to them what's happening and why; that's the best rapport."

Because he has been in the school system for so many years, he has literally watched many of Storm Lake's children grow up. He still comes across some of those past students, now grown up, and he is still referred to as "Officer Friendly." That is exactly the impact he has hoped his educational programs would bring him.

He will miss the job, he said, but added simply, "things change."

Storm Lake has been home for a number of years and he and his family have enjoyed their lives here.

"This community has so many things to offer and I love the diversity."

Erickson is working on a couple of ideas that will occupy his time and knowledge after his retirement from the SL Police Department.

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