A dare becomes a career
What started out basically as a joke led to Austin Thompson becoming a Minneota police officer.
"When I was a sophomore (at Minneota High School in 2015), I was at the Snowball Dance and some of my classmates dared me to ask the police officer there if I could go on a ride-along," Thompson recalls.
"It was more or less a joke because I figured he would say no." The officer was Joel Walerius, who at the time was working part-time for the Minneota Police Department and is now a Lyon County Sheriff's Deputy.
"(Walerius) said 'Sure, come on along', which surprised me a little," Thompson laughed. "So I signed all the waiver paperwork and went along just to show my buddies that I did it."
But while riding along in the police car, Thompson got a revelation. "It wasn't anything like I thought it was going to be," he explained.
"It was really interesting and appealing to me. Nothing happened during the ride-along, but it was the professionalism of the job that got me interested."
Thompson then decided to make law enforcement his career, and after graduating from high school, he attended the two-year Law Enforcement program at Minnesota West in Worthington, followed by an eight-week skill program.
Thompson was hired three weeks ago as a part-time officer with the Minneota Police Department. He joins Police Chief Bill Bolt, part-timers Eric Johnson and Aaron Beek, and current intern Jonathan Monterroso. Thompson was an intern last year as a bicycle officer. He could be seen pedaling around town in whatever kind of weather Mother Nature threw at him. "Sometimes it was not fun in the heat and rain and wind," he laughed.
"It was mainly PR work, which I love doing.” "I also coordinated bicycle safety programs with juveniles. I had no law enforcement jurisdiction so I wasn't allowed to arrest anyone."
Thompson, the son of Troy and Carla Thompson, passed his Minnesota POST Board Police Officer licensing examination on June 4, enabling him to become a fully-licensed police officer.
"It was a 170-question computerized test in Brookings, SD," Thompson said.
"Before I took the test, they searched me and filmed me as a precaution."
Thompson is now in the final stages of a completing Field Training Officer (FTO) work with Chief Bolt and will be able to be on his own in a few more weeks.
"Austin is doing extremely well," said Chief Bolt. "He has shown a high aptitude for working with people and understanding the concerns of others."
Thompson is only 20 years old, but has shown Chief Bolt that he's mature enough to handle the job. "Although he is young, Austin has a good head on his shoulders and gives thought to his actions and words," Bolt said.
"I enjoy his youthful energy and playful attitude, while also recognizing his serious side."
Because of his age, there is a drawback for a few more months. "I don't turn 21 until October," he said. "Until then, I'm not allowed to carry a firearm with me in the car when I'm not on duty."
The City of Minneota has been in need of additional police officers to better serve the community. And Bolt feels Thompson will be a valuable asset to the police department and to the community.
"I think he will continue to become an excellent officer and another reason for people in Minneota to feel proud about their community," Bolt noted.
Thompson was on hand to witness Bolt performing an emergency delivery of a baby boy last week in the police parking lot. "We were out patrolling and I was driving," said Thompson.
"I took the call from the 911 dispatcher that someone was going to have a baby and were going to pull into Dollar General's parking lot.” "We were on the east side of Minneota and we saw a car in the police parking lot with four-way flashers going and the call that fit the description, so we knew that was it."
The pregnant woman, Stephanie Schilling and her sister Dorothy, who was driving the vehicle, bypassed Dollar General and instead pulled into the police station parking lot.
"Police officers are trained to do childbirth and what to do in case there is a complication," said Thompson.
"But I never expected it to happen on my second week on the job."
Thompson put the oxygen mask over Schilling's face and the oximeter on her finger while Bolt was preparing to delivery the baby. Thompson then became the primary contact officer, relaying information to the incoming ambulance, as well as the dispatcher. Other First Responders came upon the scene and also assisted.
"I couldn't believe what was going on. I had a hundred things running through my mind," said Thompson.
"It was such a relief when I heard the baby crying and knew it was healthy.” "Bill remained calm the entire time and did a fantastic job. I'm glad he was there because he has over 20 years of experience."
Although Thompson has no other occupation other than helping his father with his Thompson Excavating business at times, the other part-time officers have full-times jobs as truck drivers and their availability can be limited at times.
"I appreciate my part-time officers and they are dedicated and do a good job," said Bolt. Monterroso will continue until mid-August and will then return to finish his law enforcement training. Thompson said he enjoys being able to work in the place he grew up.
"It's an advantage because I didn't have to re-learn the city," he noted. "But I have had to learn the actual street names because I really never paid attention to them before.”
"Growing up here, someone would tell me how to get to someone else's house by saying 'Go to Judy's place and it's three houses down from there' and I knew exactly where to go. Now, I've had to learn the street names and house numbers."
Thompson has written out a few tickets already, including one for a revoked license, and has issued a few warnings. He knows it's inevitable that sometime when he pulls someone over for a traffic violation or when he responds to a domestic dispute, a perpetrator will become belligerent.
"We are trained to remain calm," he said. "We try to assure them why we stopped them or what we're doing. It will get easier as I gain more experience." Thompson also feels that by working with and being trained by Chief Bolt, he is going to become a good police officer.
"Bill is amazing. He is realistic and has taught me a lot already," said Thompson. "One thing he has said to me is we are a service and we're not trying to punish anyone."
Just wait until the day Thompson has to pull over one of those buddies who dared him to ride along with a police officer four years ago.