New Fairmont police chief doing what he likes best

FAIRMONT — When he assumes the role of Fairmont’s police chief on Dec. 8, Mike Hunter will lead a department that already has earned his respect.

“I’m very fortunate to have the officers here that we do,” he said, calling them a tight-knit group. “I consider them some of the best law enforcement professionals, but I also consider them some of the best friends that I have.”

A native of St. Paul, Hunter attended Rosemount Senior High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of St. Thomas. He is a 23-year veteran of law enforcement, coming to Fairmont 18 years ago after working in Minneapolis, Burnsville and Madelia.

“I worked in Madelia two years prior to starting in Fairmont,” he said. “I spent some time in Fairmont and really started to fall in love with the community, so when a position for a patrol officer spot came up here in 1998, I jumped at the chance to take the job and move down here.”

Living and working in Fairmont for the past 18-plus years deepened his commitment to the community, so when the chief’s slot opened up with the retirement of Greg Brolsma, Hunter decided to apply for the job.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to continue what I like doing best, which is being a police officer,” he said. “Part of what I was looking to do was to be in a position where I can better help make an impact on the quality of services we provide here.”

Thirty applicants from 11 states vied for the top cop’s job in Fairmont, with five finalists undergoing additional testing and interviews before Hunter was selected by a hiring team including city administrator Mike Humpal, Sharon Klumpp of Waters & Company Executive Recruitment and the city’s Police Civil Service Commission comprised of Daron Johnson, John Korsmo and Dan Thiesse.

“I think my genuine pride in the Fairmont Police Department and in our community is probably what came across in the (interview) process,” Hunter said. “I really enjoy the officers that work here, and I greatly enjoy the people that we have here in the community.”

Hunter feels that his first-hand knowledge of the workings of the department and the community will serve as an advantage in his new role as chief, but he accepts that there will be some professional adjustments on his part.

“I want to stay up to date with my enjoyment of policing and my daily contact with the citizens, but I understand I also have a lot of other obligations, such as the administrative paperwork side of the position,” he said.

One big adjustment for him will be transitioning to daytime and weekday hours. For many years, Hunter has worked the 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift on weeknights and weekend, a time slot he says was never dull, but makes him grateful for the support of his family.

Hunter and his wife, Jennifer, a billing coordinator at Rosen’s Inc., have two daughters, Alexa Steele, a senior at Fairmont High School, and Kelsey Hunter, a fourth-grader at Fairmont Elementary School.

“My kids always make me laugh. They’re the two sweetest girls, and they have had to put up with a lot with my schedule the last few years, but they always understand,” Hunter said. “I owe them a lot for tolerating my schedule.”

The standard hours will allow Hunter more family time and perhaps some summertime weekend excursions on his 2010 Harley Davidson Street Glide. If the weather isn’t conducive to motorcycle outings, the Hunters work with their 11-month-old Rottweiler, Mika.

Hunter said those “normal” hours also will present one of his toughest challenges — competing with three females for morning bathroom time.

In addition to the support from family and his fellow officers, Hunter also lauds community support.

“Here in Fairmont, we have a great level of support from the community, and our officers cannot say thanks enough for that support. There are other police departments that don’t have that level of support,” he said.

One of Hunter’s first duties after he officially becomes chief on Dec. 8 will involve consulting with the local police commission to hire two new officers, one to replace him and one to replace Dave Runge, an officer who retired Nov. 30. Being down two officers on the 16-member force is the main reason Hunter didn’t immediately take over the chief’s role, opting to finish out the pay cycle on patrol duty. Scheduling with a personnel shortage, especially through the holidays, can be tough.

“But we’ll make it through. We’ve got a good group of officers and staff here,” Hunter said. “When things like this come up, whether it’s open shifts, vacation, what have you, we’ve got a lot of guys who step up to help each other out and make sure we get those shifts covered and fulfill our commitment to the community.”

This teamwork philosophy carries over into Hunter’s goals for the future, which include adjusting schedules to provide better coverage during busier times, continuing specialized training and integrating body cameras for on-duty officers as a way to record data for accurate reports and build solid court cases.

“They’re not just my goals. They are our department goals, what our officers want to achieve here in the community,” Hunter said.

Change in leadership normally generates other changes of varying degrees, but one thing will remain constant when Hunter takes over as chief. He plans to continue wearing his standard officer’s uniform every day, although the sergeant stripes will be removed to make room for the chief’s insignia. He feels most comfortable in his normal work wear, but there is an underlying reason for his reluctance to don more formal garb.

“I have two suits, and I’ve already worn both for the interview part, so everyone’s seen those,” he quipped.

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