by Joni Astrup
For the last 34 and a half years, Elk River native Jeff Mordal has been a police officer in the town where he grew up.
He retires Saturday, March 30 after a career that began quite by chance when he was just out of high school.
One of his best friends had joined the Elk River police reserves, and then convinced his brother and Mordal to join as well.
“Both those guys quit about a year later,” Mordal recalled with a chuckle. But he stayed.
“I enjoyed it. I liked the excitement. I liked helping out the community,” he said.
One of his first assignments was on Halloween in 1978. He and another reservist were sent to the local grocery store to watch for anyone buying toilet paper or eggs. Instead, Mordal said they had to deal with two people he knew from high school who were stealing shopping carts from outside the store.
For the next five years, Mordal said the police department was often dealing with people from his class — Elk River Class of 1978 — or the one behind it.
Then they grew up?
“Some of them,” Mordal answered with a laugh.
Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe said Mordal has been “a true hometown cop.”
“The good news is he got to police the town that he grew up in. Not many officers get to do that. The bad news is he got to police the town that he grew up in,” Rolfe said.
Mordal joined the police reserves in 1978, when he was 18.
While attending college for his law enforcement degree, he worked as a part-time Elk River police officer. After finishing his law enforcement training, he was hired as the ninth full-time officer in Elk River on Oct. 1, 1983. He was promoted to corporal in 1985 and to patrol sergeant in 1992.
He’s spent all but a few years of his career working nights, by choice. Mordal finds the night shift more interesting and never was a big fan of getting up before dawn for an early morning shift.
A close call
Of all the calls Mordal has responded to, one stands out.
It was Aug. 18, 2001, when a call came in about a suicidal male at 1227 School St.
Mordal and Officer Todd Besser responded.
Mordal pulled into the entrance of the apartment building parking lot and the man’s wife came over to talk to him. As Mordal talked to her, he saw her husband standing next to a van and holding a shotgun.
Mordal, who was armed with a rifle, said: “I put my spotlight on him and told him to put the gun down. A short time later he just brought the gun up and fired away.”
The shotgun slug missed Mordal’s head by mere inches.
The man was shot and wounded by Besser when he brought the gun up to fire again.
The suspect survived and later told authorities that he was firing at Mordal’s spotlight.
Mordal was awarded the department’s highest award, the Medal of Valor. He is one of only two recipients.
The shooting is something Mordal says he still thinks about occasionally, but he doesn’t believe he has felt any anger toward the man who fired at him.
“I look at it as it’s a risk that I take in my job,” Mordal said. “The guy obviously had problems or issues, and it’s just the way things go.”
Mordal has also received numerous other awards during his career, including three Lifesaving Awards.
Chief Rolfe said one involved a man whose boat capsized on Lake Orono early one spring.
When Mordal arrived at the Orono bridge, he observed the capsized boat in the middle of the lake with a man in the cold water struggling to hold on.
While other officers were responding to the lake, Mordal turned around and sped instead to his house, then raced back with his truck and his own boat in tow.
Loading up more officers at the boat landing, they were able to rescue the man and bring him to safety, Rolfe said.
A donated kidney
For the last 18 years, Mordal has been living with a transplanted kidney.
He had been diagnosed with kidney disease years ago. Doctors speculated that it stemmed from a strep infection that went into his kidneys.
In 1994, Mordal had begun dialysis and in January 1995, had the transplant.
His brother, Doug, donated the kidney. Doug said at the time: “He needed it and he’s my brother. It was a pretty easy decision to make.”
Jeff said he’s been very fortunate and has had no rejection issues, which he said is fairly uncommon.
“My brother and I were a very good match and that’s probably why,” he said.
He was concerned at the time about how it would affect his job as a police officer, but he was able to resume his career without limitations.
Retirement is ‘a bittersweet thing’
Mordal was honored at the March 18 Elk River City Council meeting, where Mayor John Dietz proclaimed March 30 Jeff Mordal Day. Mordal’s family and many uniformed officers were in attendance and they gave him a standing ovation.
Rolfe also presented Mordal with the Chief’s Award, the department’s second-highest award.
Looking back at Mordal’s career, Rolfe said he has played an integral role in the development of the modern Elk River Police Department. Mordal was the department’s first formal field training coordinator and served as a police reserve coordinator, firearms instructor and defensive tactics instructor. He also was the traffic safety program coordinator for more than a decade, obtaining and administering hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funds for county-wide traffic safety enforcement programs, Rolfe said.
The chief said Mordal is a dedicated husband and father as well. He and his wife, Sue, have three daughters, Alyssa, Casey and Erin.
Mordal said he and his family enjoy traveling and will be driving to Alaska later this year.
His other retirement plans include fishing, hunting, skilled gaming and catching up with family and friends.
Mordal described retirement as “a bittersweet thing.”
He said the police department is kind of like a family and he will miss it a lot.
“I work with good people. I’ve had good leaders. I work in a great community in an ideal state and an ideal part of the state. I couldn’t have been any luckier.”