New Burnsville Police Chief Eric Gieseke knows what he's good at and what he's not.

The technology end -- the Burnsville department was the first in the state to use body-cams -- he'll leave to the people who know the most about it.

In his first 100 days on the job, Gieseke will focus on "stabilizing the ship, getting the right people in the right places."

Gieseke, 47, took over Friday from retiring Chief Bob Hawkins, 52, who ended almost 25 years with the Burnsville department, including eight years as chief.

With Gieseke, a former captain, taking over as chief, and Capt. Eric Werner becoming head of the Rosemount department, the Burnsville force of 75 sworn officers has promoted two sergeants to captain. They come from the ranks of patrol officers.

Gieseke, who grew up in Brooklyn Park, is not from a family of law enforcers. However, his best friend's mom was a victim of domestic abuse. Before the 911 system, "the kids would run to our house and we'd call the police," he said.

"You'd wake up and you'd see the cops at the neighbor's house. I remember being really grateful that the cops were there," he said.

Gieseke attended Anoka High School and was a gymnast throughout high school and college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first policing job was with the Burnsville department, except for a very short stint as a bicycle patrol officer in Crystal.

He was hired as one of the department's cadets -- now called community service officers -- in 1989. He soon became a patrol officer, preferring to work nights, where the action was. His turf was the northeast section of the city, concentrating on making connections in the community and enforcing "the basics."

After 12 years as an officer, he rose to patrol sergeant. He's been a captain, overseeing investigations and community resource units, for the past 6 1/2 years.

"I never thought I'd do anything other than patrol. It wasn't, 'Hey, I gotta be a chief.' I joked about it -- I never cared about what was going on in the corner [office]." Then as time progressed he thought, "Maybe I can do something. Maybe I can make a difference."

Gieseke earned a master's degree in criminal justice leadership from Concordia University in St. Paul and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. He was named Minnesota Police Officer of the Year in 2003.

His handling of an armed man at a home-invasion burglary in 2002 was one factor that earned him the Officer of the Year award. With his submachine gun trained on the man, Gieseke didn't know whether the man would fire at him and his two partners or at the man who lay bleeding on the floor. As it turned out, the armed man was the victim and he had taken the gun from the burglar. He had beaten him and was holding him at gunpoint.

As chief and head of an entirely new command staff, Gieseke plans to continue to embrace community-oriented policing philosophy. Officers patrol an area of the city for an extended period of time to get to know residents better and to learn where crime is concentrated. He'll also continue to focus on the basics of traffic enforcement, theft from motor vehicles and smaller crimes that can lead to bigger ones.

Electronic crimes pose new challenges, and Gieseke admits technology isn't his forte. It is others', though. "Leadership 101: Try to play to people's strengths," he said.

Gieseke lives in Lakeville with his wife, who works as a paraprofessional with special ed students at Kenwood Trail Middle School. His sons, 15 and 12, are avid snowboarders. He is a skier, too, and an avid runner. He's completed 14 marathons, including the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon. He coaches his boys' baseball teams and believes exercise is vital to police work.

"You've gotta stay in shape for it," he said. "You try to lead by example. You don't leave a legacy; you live it. I'm kind of a go-getter."

Hawkins' next move

Hawkins, the retiring chief, plans to work part-time for the new Costco on Burnhaven Drive. He couldn't be happier about that.

"Here, the plate is always overflowing," Hawkins said from his corner office at the police department. "It's very stressful. There's always things going on. There, they have a huge focus on customer service. We try to do the same thing in law enforcement.

"I've been blessed to be part of the best of the best here at the Burnsville Police Department -- a Burnsville boy helping to serve the community that raised him. [Costco] gives me the opportunity to continue to serve the community."

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284