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Notes from the Small Pond: Cops

Typically, when cops show up at your door, it’s not the best news of the day. When they show up after midnight, it almost always isn’t fun.

Back in the day — 10/15/25 years ago, in this town, when the cops showed up it was 100-percent likely to be a chubby-esque white dude in his 50s (or looking like it) with either coffee or liquor or both on his (always “his”) breath and either impatience or disdain in his attitude.

Things have changed around here.

One of the few benefits of qualifying as an Old Guy is the benefit of perspective. Experience is a mosaic, of course, and the individual, dotted matrix of our singular life events take on a more defined and comprehensible shape and hue, once enough time has passed to see the proverbial Forest for the Trees.

And the debate about whether the individual trees or the collective forest is more beautiful is exactly that: Debatable.

Un-debatable is the fact that the forest makes the trees make sense. And vice-versa.

So when the cops spent most of last summer at my place, the individual dots in the matrix of the mosaic that built out the experience were stressful beyond my ability to communicate, until now.

Along the way, from the very first encounter, there was a certain and perceptible vapor of Patience. Compassion, even.

Again, for a guy who grew up in this town in the 1970s, ’80s, and whose kids grew up here in the ’90s and 2000s, registering even a moderate level of compassion and patience associated with the CPD, seemed … at the risk of over-stating it: A Paradigm Shift.

The cops we dealt with last year were not only patient and compassionate, but pragmatically helpful.

“We’ll stop back tomorrow to see if you guys need anything. Here’s a few numbers to call and people to talk with who have tons of experience in dealing with what you’re dealing with.”


Eye contact.

The next day, as promised, a couple of officers stopped by to say hello and lend some support. No looking for evidence. No disdain. No judgment.

Almost weird.

“We’re here if you need anything. Just give us a call.”

They handed us business cards with cell phone numbers.

The phrase, To Serve and Protect, came to mind, un-ironically.

Later the same day, the Chief stopped over.

“How’re you guys holding up?”


“Good to hear.”

Everyone with my Last Name (except my wife, nephews and niece) has Broken the Law a million times.

County Jails: Been there.

Handcuffs: Worn ‘em.

Squad cars: Ridden ‘em.

Judges: Talked to ‘em.


Most cops, I know, are fellow sinners. (Note the placement of commas.)

To me, it appears that at least one critical difference between this town’s present cadre of law enforcement professionals, compared to those of yesteryear, is just that: professionalism.

Not perfection.

Not sanctimonious.

Not better than.

Not above.

Not bullying.

Not hypocritical.

Not cynical.

Not mean-as-a-proxy-for-tough …

Just Cops. Professionals.

Doing a job, sometimes imperfectly.

Alongside the rest of us professionals.

Doing our jobs. Sometimes imperfectly.

Lawyers and doctors and teachers and electricians and car sales and drywallers and truck drivers and journalists and roofers and neuroscientists, day care providers and gravediggers (yes, we still have those) and dogwalkers and accountants and diamond willow sculptors and forklift drivers and out-of-work-looking-for-work-ers and paper makers and wholesale fooders and lazy-ass-people-who-never-wanna-work-but-still-good-people ....

Let’s pray that our town’s best cops are as good as our town’s best losers, since the mirror image of each is each.

Meanwhile …

I ain’t Pollyanna. I know if I, or one of mine, does something stupid, irresponsible, illegal, those same kind and concerned cops will pull me over, bust me, arrest me, cuff me, shove into the back of a squad car … all that … Because that’s their job — to keep us safe from ourselves and each other and, along the way, remind us we’re not above the rules we’ve chosen for ourselves, them and the All of Us we claim we are.

Cloquet's Parnell Thill is previous "Columnist of the Year" winner in Minnesota and author of “Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks,” available online. His opinions are his own, as are a few of the moments he describes to make his point. Contact him c/o [email protected].

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