Brad Lindgren recently retired as chief deputy of the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office. In January 1996, he was the St. Joseph police chief when one of his officers stopped three robbery suspects in a stolen pickup truck.
Officer Brian Klinefelter, 24, was near the end of his shift in the still-dark morning when news of the robbery in a nearby town came over the radio. Minutes after stopping the pickup, Klinefelter lay dying on the highway after being shot five times.
Lindgren went to the site where Klinefelter was shot. Other agencies also asked to look at it. Researchers, he remembers, wanted to dissect the stop and what happened.
“It was a tough pill to swallow because, if they found something [Klinefelter did wrong], it would be hurtful,” Lindgren said. “But it was good for everybody.”
At the time, questions centered on whether Klinefelter should have waited for backup before stopping the suspects. Lindgren said the biggest lesson he gained was improving firearms training.
“You’ve got to pick the best guy for the job,” he said of training, which now includes more than just shooting at a paper target. Officers are trained to shoot on the move, load and reload with either hand, shoot in the cold and shoot while dragging away another officer.
“That is the best thing that came out of it, learning how to do it in real-life situations,” Lindgren said.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said officers always pay more attention to detail and become more vigilant after one of their own is killed. But he said police would get worn out if they were on edge all the time.
“If you are so concerned about getting injured every day you go to work, you probably are in the wrong line of work,” he said.
Still, Sanner said, police training is always evolving. Academies train new recruits, but officers each year undergo continuing instruction. More and more, police use real-life footage from squad car dash cams to learn from officers’ past encounters. All of it, he said, is meant to make responses to threats as automatic as possible.
“Shame on us if we don’t try to learn, try to be better — try to be safe,” he said.
Still, there are situations that training may not always prevent.
On an early morning in May 2010, Sgt. Joe Bergeron of the Maplewood Police Department was driving his squad car near the Bruce Ventro bicycle trail in St. Paul, responding to a report of a carjacking. He came upon two men coming off the trail.
As Bergeron, 49, sat in his car, one man distracted him while the other reached his arm into the door and shot and killed the veteran officer. One of the suspects was later killed after he attacked a St. Paul police officer.
Force Science Executive Director Bill Lewinski, who for years led the law enforcement program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, conducts worldwide training and research regarding police safety and use of force. He has extensively researched traffic stops that turned fatal for police. One area that needs greater emphasis, he said, is teaching officers how to more quickly recognize possible danger.
That, and do a better job of knowing what a suspect is doing with their hands.
“In [FBI] interviews with people who tried to kill or killed a police officer, they found the earlier an officer gained control and the more professional he acted, the less they were able to attack the officer,” Lewinski said.
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