by Jim Boyle
Capt. Bob Stangler was only few short months into his career as an officer when he learned fatal accidents would be the toughest part of his job.
“They’re so sudden,” he said. “You have to deliver that message to a family member. People take it for granted that their loved one who was headed to the grocery store will be back. They’re not going to be. It’s so sudden. It’s so permanent.”
When officers of the law go down in the line of duty, it’s an equally sudden end to life. There’s an added shroud around these deaths for those in the profession.
“I have been to several officers’ funerals,” Stangler said. “They’re moving. The brethren come out in droves, and that’s when you see that the public does care and understand.”
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. Tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge on Washington, D.C., to participate in a number of planned events that honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The memorial service began in 1982 as a gathering in Senate Park of approximately 120 survivors and supporters of law enforcement. Decades later, the event, more commonly known as National Police Week, has grown to a series of events which attracts thousands of survivors and law enforcement officers to our nation’s Capitol each year.
Sherburne County pays homage as well. Civilians and officers of the law gathered at the Sherburne County Government Center May 15 to honor those who, working as peace officers, have paid the ultimate sacrifice this past year.
Last year, 120 officers from across the country were killed in the line of duty. So far this year, 37 officers have been killed.
Stangler joined some of his brethren out at the flag pole at the Sherburne County Government Center for the local wreath laying ceremony.
Criminal justice major turned sheriff’s deputy
Stangler was hired on as a Sherburne County deputy in 1992. The farm boy from St. Peter had completed a criminal justice degree in 1990 from St. Cloud State and drove trucks afterward. He was putting in 95 hours a week with a trucking firm and making gobs of money when he realized he was spinning his wheels.
He took some of his earnings and went to Europe in the winter of 1991. As his head cleared he began to map out a new plan.
He took a job with Pinkerton Investigations, a small private investigating arm of Pinkerton Security. It was interesting work that involved investigating cases of insurance fraud and the like, but there wasn’t enough work for it to be a steady job.
It was in 1992 he decided to tackle a few courses at Alexandria Tech to get certified in law enforcement. He did that and got hired as a deputy for the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department.
He’s been there ever since, getting promoted to a sergeant in his third year on the job. He went on to serve as commander of several departments within the department, including SWAT, the reserves, boat and water as well as fleet management.
Last year, he was promoted to captain. He took over Capt. Don Starry’s duties in Zimmerman after Chief Deputy Scott Gudmundson retired and set off a number of promotions.
On Friday, April 26, Stangler graduated from Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Police Staff and Command. Stangler attended 10 weeks of classes and training on various law enforcement topics. He was able to network with other agencies and gather information on new ideas.
It a source of pride for Stangler.
So is the work he did as a sergeant, working up the county’s first lock-down procedures at schools throughout much of Sherburne County (Elk River Police came up with their own for Elk River schools). That took more than a year.
Of course, after Sandy Hook the procedures were revisited to see if they needed to be tweaked.
Stangler now manages the contract the city of Zimmerman has with Sherburne County. He has four deputies under his wings and a relatively new substation that was dedicated in 2008. Starry managed the substation in its infancy.
Stangler has come a long way from his first few timid months on the job.
He recalled his first fatal accident was a workplace-related one involving two young adult roommates. One was killed. The other was devastated.
“I felt so bad for the person,” Stangler said. “I didn’t even ask him any questions.”
When he returned to the station, and the then-Sheriff Bruce Anderson asked what happened.
Stangler explained what appeared to have happened. And when Anderson asked what the survivor in the accident said, Stangler admitted he didn’t have a very good answer.
But he learned.
“We have to ask the tough questions,” Stangler said.