Dennis Jensen left the world better and safer than he found it.
He left it too soon, at age 63, leaving behind a storied service record, from a beat cop to a top cop in St. Paul and Ramsey County.
You might not recognize the name. When police officers are good at their jobs, we don’t even notice what a good job they’re doing. Crimes make more headlines than crime prevention.
“God blessed us with Dennis Jensen,” the Rev. Darryl Spence told the standing-room-only crowd of mourners who gathered in St. Paul Tuesday for the funeral. “He built a bridge between the community and law enforcement.”
Spence, a member of St. Paul’s legendary God Squad — ministers and African-American community leaders who work side by side with police at crime scenes — looked around at the police and sheriff’s uniforms at the service.
“He was the bridge that connected us to you.”
Dennis Lynn Jensen was born in Minneapolis on Oct. 22, .1956. He died on New Year’s Day 2020, five years after his diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
He was Amy’s husband and Danielle’s father and they were his whole world. He is survived by his brothers and sisters, in blood and in blue.
At Tuesday’s service, mourners laughed as much as they cried when they remembered him.
“He was an angel,” said Shelley Johnson Cline, executive director of the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, who worked with Jensen on a domestic violence response plan that became a model for the state and the country.
From the crowd of mourners, the voice of his widow, Amy Jensen, broke in.
“Well …” she drawled, as the room dissolved in laughter, remembering the man who walked the precinct halls with a cocked head and a smile.
He started on the East Side, patrolling Payne Avenue. He was the guy they called when they needed to track down a wily counterfeiter or a fugitive biker gang. Eventually, he rose to assistant chief of police but, in the words of his obituary, “he never stopped patrolling the streets of St. Paul.”
“He was a man of the community. He was a cop’s cop,” said former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, who now leads the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
He could bring people together who were barely on speaking terms, Harrington said, and hammer out an agreement that, almost miraculously, all sides liked. He once negotiated an agreement that managed to delight police brass, the police union and the NAACP simultaneously.
He survived two heart attacks — one at 38, one at 48. When the second forced him to step down from the police department, he pivoted to a civilian anti-terrorism post at the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.
Jensen had a quick wit, a smart mouth and master’s degree in security studies from the Navy. When he graduated with top honors, at the top of his class, from Concordia University, they asked him to speak at graduation.
This was his approach to speechwriting: “Be brief, baby,” he joked, “and be gone.”
“It was all too brief,” Harrington told the gathered mourners. “And he left us way, way too soon.”
But the bridges he helped build are still standing.
“When I see a police officer at Cub, I always say ‘Get home safe,’ ” Spence said. That was one thing, he said, he learned from his friend Dennis. “You have a tough job and we don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”
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