When 19-year-old Don Abbott started his police career in 1982 in Parkers Prairie, Minn., his father had to buy him his first duty firearm.
"You can't buy a handgun when you are 19," Abbott, Fridley's director of public safety, said recently. "I wasn't old enough to buy one, but I was old enough to carry it and be a police officer."
After 31 years of police work in Fridley, including 11 years as the city's top officer, Abbott will retire Thursday. He will be succeeded by Brian Weierke, a 20-year Fridley police officer.
Over the course of his career, Abbott has seen many technological advances in police work. Back when he started, squad cars didn't have computers, and one cellphone (then called bag phones) was shared among officers.
"The use of technology has changed," Abbott said. "People are the same [as they were] 30 years ago. Crimes are largely the same. The way people [commit crimes] is a bit different. And the way we handle them is different."
Fridley's top cop job will change hands at a time when police departments are researching and implementing body cameras, one of their latest tools in the rapidly changing world of law enforcement. Fridley has no current plans to start using body cameras, but "that's something we are always considering," Weierke said.
Both men started with the force as technological changes were just beginning to sweep through police departments. Paper ticket books were being replaced by portable computer tablets. Squad cars started using GPS systems. And technology continues to evolve: Soon there will be a countywide public safety system for police, fire, dispatch and jail.
"I can't imagine police work without [these new tools]," Abbott said.
"We started with some really simple systems," he said. "You are going to see an increase of information, the speed of which it travels and the amount of information we are able to share."
And that's a good thing, because advancing technology has also given rise to new kinds of crimes.
School resource officers are noticing more cyberbullying and threats on social media. "Kids are so into technology now, and changes in that type of technology has also been interesting," Weierke said.
And theft has become more intricate.
"There wasn't financial transaction card fraud 30 years ago like there is today," Abbott said. "There weren't Internet scams, because the Internet didn't exist, at least not for the public."
A stint in the schools
Weierke, 46, a Shakopee native, knew he wanted to be a police officer in high school. He studied in the criminal justice system at Bemidji State University, where he also played basketball.
After college, he worked at the Hennepin County juvenile detention center for three years before the Fridley police hired him in 1995.
One of Weierke's first police posts in that city was as a school resource officer at its high school, soon after the devastating shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Such a role was unprecedented in Fridley. Previously, schools and police departments had rarely interacted.
"It was a very stressful time in schools and people were concerned about security," Weierke said.
He served in that role for two years. Despite its challenges, it quickly became one of his favorite experiences.
"It was very rewarding for me," Weierke said.
Five years became a career
Abbott, 53, a native of Moorhead, Minn., never thought he'd spend more than five years as a police officer.
Before he became one, he'd sometimes ride along on the night shift with an older friend who was an officer. He got to know deputies and learned about police work firsthand. He decided he would enjoy the job.
But Abbott told himself he would do it for five years, then go to law school.
After 33½ years, "it turned out to be a full career," he said. "It just grew into something I wanted to do."
Looking back at his rookie days, Abbott said, he's reminded of how much fun he has had.
"I'd run 12 days in a row and be sad that I had a day or two off," he said. "There were so many shifts, that I would say, 'This is fun. I can't believe we get paid to do this.' "