Calling Eagan police in the department’s early days would put you through to the chief’s home phone.
His wife was often on the other end, ready to take down information about the latest animal at large or another report of out-of-towners firing rifles along the Minnesota River.
“We’ve still got the same phone number we used then,” said Martin DesLauriers, who became the city’s first police chief when the department was established in 1965.
On May 14, the department will mark 50 years in service with a three-hour celebration at the Eagan Municipal Center. The milestone is also serving as a chance to take stock of how the department — and the city — has changed.
The department officially turns 50 on June 1, the day it started with one chief (earning $3 per hour) and two part-time officers. DesLauriers, who previously became the town’s constable at age 20 in 1951, even used his own car on patrol for several years.
Today, the department is one of Dakota County’s busiest, averaging nearly 50,000 calls for service each year for the last decade. It has 70 officers, 15 civilian staff and eight volunteer police chaplains.
Eagan’s current police chief, Jim McDonald, said when he became an officer in the 1980s, traffic accidents were a concern as road improvements struggled to keep up with population growth.
The crimes Eagan officers investigate have changed since then, McDonald said.
“Before it was burglars and check forgers,” McDonald said. “Now we’re stuck dealing with becoming forensic examiners.”
The department opened a computer forensics lab in 2008 to examine cellphones, computers and even Xboxes for evidence. The anniversary celebration will include interactive displays featuring the department’s K-9, tactical and crime prevention units, among others, McDonald said.
“When people walk out of here on May 14, I hope they continue to see us as an asset,” McDonald said.
Local dignitaries will speak around 6:30 p.m. and a painting by Larry Landis, a local artist, will be dedicated. Landis’ work depicts two present-day officers standing outside O’Brien’s Half-Way House as they wave goodbye to a cop from the original force. Eagan’s original city hall and police station are in the background and a 1965 Northwest Orient plane flies overhead.
There was a time, through the 1960s, when DesLauriers and his officers likely knew everyone in town and where they lived.
“That changed quite drastically,” he said. “It’s not that personal anymore. It can’t be.”
With a population exceeding 65,000, Eagan police now rely on community watch groups, social media and yearly National Night Out events to stay connected with residents.
The tools for outreach have changed, McDonald said, but it’s still important. A 2014 survey by a Minneapolis research firm suggests that such efforts have been successful: 98 percent of 400 Eagan residents polled said they felt safe and 97 percent rated police protection as “excellent or good.”
As it celebrates turning 50, the Eagan Police Department will also dedicate a time capsule to be opened in 2065. McDonald said it might include tools today’s officers use, letters and news clippings.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if someone’s prized coffee cup also goes in there,” McDonald said.