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Kotewa turns to next chapter

ABOVE: Sergeant James Kotewa of the Fairmont Police Department. Kotewa is retiring from full-time employment with the department after about 30 years.

FAIRMONT– Sergeant James Kotewa of the Fairmont Police Department is ending full-time employment and turning to another stage of his life at the end of this month. Kotewa has been involved with the department since 1984.

Originally from Fairmont, Kotewa first got a taste of law enforcement, specifically the Fairmont Police Department, in 1984 when he joined the Law Enforcement Explorer program, which was sponsored by the Fairmont Police Department and associated with the boy Scouts of America. The program is what piqued his interest in law enforcement.

“We did ride alongs and assisted with the police department. I’ve essentially worn a Fairmont Police Department patch on my sleeve since 1984,” Kotewa said.

Upon graduating from high school, he went to Mankato State University where he got a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement. After that he began working as a part-time patrol office for the Truman Police Department in 1993 and left full-time in 1995. By that time he was also working as an undercover task force agent and was working part-time for the Fairmont Police Department for one year.

“I came here full-time in 1997,” Kotewa said of the Fairmont Police Department.

In April of this year he would have been with the department full-time for 27 years, though he’s been licensed with the department for 31 years.

Throughout those three decades, Kotewa has had the opportunity to work a variety of roles within the department. Along with being a patrol officer, he’s spent time with the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force. Kotewa also spent several years as a Detective and became a Sergeant in 2003.

Looking back on the roles he’s held, Kotewa said he hasn’t really had a favorite, but that he’s thoroughly enjoyed the education that’s come with every role.

“Having held so many positions, I’ve gotten extra training and I’ve been blessed to do that training and travel for work,” Kotewa said.

Through his extra training, Kotewa is a Minnesota Certified Emergency Manager and a member of the Crisis Intervention Team.

Of course, Kotewa has had the opportunity to witness many changes within the local police department and law enforcement in general over the years. When asked what the biggest change was he immediately cited technology.

“It’s greatly changed how we do our job. When I started the only technology we had in our squad car was speed radar. Now we have computers, body cameras and all of the information at the tip of our fingers,” Kotewa said.

He believes the advances in technology have been for the better as it’s made the work officers do more efficient. However, he said there are hinderances as the public also has access to a lot of information with new technology. In his career Kotewa has spent a good amount of time educating the public, and especially the senior population, on how to avoid scams.

Throughout his years with the department Kotewa has also had the opportunity to work with many other officers and staff members. At this point, 30 years in, not many remain who he started out with.

“I’ve been running around this building since 1984. Since I started part-time in 1994, no one is left except our part-time community service officer, Brad Buhmann,” Kotewa said.

He said it’s a weird feeling to be the “old guy” in the department after spending so many years early on looking up to senior officers. However, he’s thankful for all of the coworkers he’s crossed paths with.

“I’ve been very lucky to work with some incredible officers, supervisors and investigators who have been helpful in teaching and guiding me on how to be a better cop,” Kotewa said.

The decision to retire didn’t come easy to Kotewa. He’s reluctant to leave the department and his long career in law enforcement because he said it’s a large part of who he is. However, he’s choosing to put his family and his health first.

“I have a 14-year-old son and my schedule coming up wasn’t cohesive with being with my son. I’ve missed so much working nights, holidays and weekends. This is an opportunity for me to look forward to the next chapter of my life,” Kotewa said.

He plans to stay in the area but is looking forward to taking it easy and spending more time with his children and being a bigger, and more present part of their lives.

However, that’s not to say there won’t be some parts of the jobs that Kotewa will miss.

“What I’m going to miss is having the opportunity to help people. In this job you see people at their best and at their worst. If you can give any kind of shred of helping people at their worst and help them understand that we all make poor choices in life and that it doesn’t define who they are and that they can move forward…. I’ll miss helping people. I love that job,” Kotewa said.

Considering what he would tell a young person with an interest in law enforcement, Kotewa said he would stress that above all the desire to help people needs to be at the forefront of the decision they make on whether or not to enter the field.

“These kids come in and think it will be fun but I had a pursuit a year ago that was 10 minutes of bare-knuckled driving wondering why it was happening and then 20 minutes of paperwork for follow-up. It’s not always an adrenaline rush– it’s a lot of mundane work and doing things that aren’t exciting. But if you have the basis that you legitimately want to help people, that’s what it boils down to. You’re working for your community and you have to have empathy and understanding,” Kotewa said.

He will work his last full-time shift with the Fairmont Police Department today.

Fairmont Police Chief Mike Hunter said, “Sergeant Kotewa has had the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different things in the Fairmont Police Department and has had a great career with us. We wish him well in his retirement,” Hunter said.

The department is currently hiring for two positions with Kotewa’s vacancy. A member of the department will also be promoted to Patrol Sergeant as a result of Kotewa’s retirement.

After a break, Kotewa is open to returning to law enforcement on a part-time basis because he enjoys the work and anticipates that he will miss it after getting a much-needed rest.

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