It took three tries for John Laux to get hired as a Bloomington cop.

His first rejection came in the early 1960s, when the 21-year-old Laux visited the department in hopes of getting a job. A gruff cop looked him up and down and growled, "Come back when you grow up."

Laux was 5 feet 8, 2 inches too short to meet federal height requirements in a time when policing was stereotyped as the job of burly men who had to be big enough to break up a fight or drag a drunk into a squad car.

Round two with Bloomington came in 1988. By then, Laux was a Minneapolis deputy chief and a finalist for the job of Bloomington police chief.

Another Minneapolis cop got the job. But the next year, Laux became police chief in Minneapolis, a job from which he retired in 1994 after six years.

He describes his last year in the Minneapolis job as "hell," and says he really hadn't thought of taking another chief position until the Bloomington job opened again in 2002.

But local policing was in his blood, and the Bloomington resident for more than 40 years realized the one police job he still really wanted was that of Bloomington police chief.

"It was my dream job," he said.

That time, he got it.

Laux, 66, will retire again in October after almost six years as Bloomington police chief. He said some health scares have made him realize it's time to spend more time at the cabin and with his grandkids.

But he'll depart only after the Republican National Convention ends in September, when Bloomington police are expected to be busy. Bloomington's hotels will host more people for the convention than those of any other city.

"It wouldn't be a good time to leave ... and selfishly I want to be part of it," Laux said. "I'm looking forward to being involved."

40 years and counting

Laux joined the Minneapolis police as a patrol officer in 1968, after height requirements for police were eased. He was already married and had just been offered the job of manager of the Red Owl food store where he'd worked since he was a teenager.

It was a time of race riots and war protests, and his wife, Sue, said, "You want to do what?" when Laux told her of the Minneapolis job offer. But she supported his decision.

He's spent almost 40 years in police work: 27 years with Minneapolis police, four years leading the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, and six years as Bloomington chief.

"I have never regretted getting into law enforcement," Laux said. "Especially as a patrol officer, every day was different. You never knew what the next day would bring. You're always waiting for the next adrenaline rush."

Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead said getting Laux as police chief "was like Michael Jordan coming out of retirement."

"He's the consummate professional, with great credentials and lots of experience. And for 40-plus years, Bloomington had been his home. ... We were very fortunate to get him."

While Laux said he never liked the administrative paperwork that backed up when he was a police investigator, he said he has found satisfaction in managing the Bloomington department. And the department, with 116 sworn officers and a support staff of 40, gets top ratings in resident surveys.

Most police departments solve 40 to 50 percent of their cases, Laux said, but Bloomington's "solve rate" is 60 percent. The department has its own forensics specialists, so the city doesn't ask Hennepin County experts to work on comparatively minor cases. Laux said that has helped the department solve cases that otherwise might remain open.

Traffic remains the biggest issue for Bloomington police. The five officers stationed at the Mall of America deal mostly with theft. Homicides are relatively rare, though two years ago there was a burst of five killings, two of them by elderly people who killed their partners and then committed suicide. But "gangs are here," Laux said. "Any community of any size that denies it is fooling themselves."

Internally, the department overhauled work schedules so police know when they're working four months in advance. Everyone gets some weekends off each month, and police don't work longer than five days in a row, a policy that Laux believes has raised job satisfaction.

In retirement, Laux plans to spend more time at his lake cabin and more time with his seven grandchildren and two sons, one of whom is a Minneapolis policeman. He will remain active on the boards of the Minnesota Institute of Public Health and of Cornerstone, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

"I retired before, but I wasn't ready," Laux said. "Now I'm leaving on my own terms, and someone will inherit a department that's in good shape.

"That Monday after my last day, we'll jump in the car and be going somewhere."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380