Woodbury was still an up-and-coming suburb of about 11,000 people in January of 1986 when a former Marine named Jay Alberio, after weighing his career options, accepted a job with the city's 12-member Police Department.

After a 27-year stay, during which he rose in the ranks even as the city around him swelled to 61,000 residents, he's retiring as investigations commander. The department he's leaving has grown in both numbers -- there will be 67 officers next year -- and the level of training, professionalism and advances in technology to assist police on the beat and in criminal investigations.

Last Thursday, just before his final day with the department, was declared "Jay Alberio Day" by the Washington County Board, which speaks to his stature in the law enforcement community.

Alberio's departure leaves a void in the department, said Police Chief Lee Vague, who added that Alberio stood by his side when he was sworn in as an officer in 1989. "But he leaves us in a good position -- he's mentored and coached so many of us."

Alberio has been an amazing detective who instilled the value of teamwork in solving crimes, Vague said. "He's got just such a knack for tracking down the bad guys -- he's a bloodhound. He has this amazing mind that can recall the smallest details."

Alberio was humbled and honored by the accolades coming his way as he prepared to leave.

"It's the people that I've been able to work with that have made this job so great," he said, including not only his fellow Woodbury officers, but those in Washington County and across the state. "I still love what I do and I still love working with the people I work with."

Alberio, who grew up in Bloomington, had hoped to join the military police after joining the Marines out of high school. But those ranks were filled, and he ended up in radio communications. That led to a short career at Control Data, but the pull of police work never left.

Soon after a stint in the Minneapolis police reserves, he came to Woodbury.

As the city and its police force have grown, so has the job of keeping it safe. In 1986, he was the first officer to go through the city's formal field training, a four-phase process in which new recruits learn the ropes of police work and their particular agency. The training has been upgraded and transformed as police work has grown in sophistication. In Woodbury, police officers also double as either paramedics or firefighters, and Alberio trained for the latter as well.

Alberio was promoted to sergeant in 1988 and began managing investigations soon after that. He was made commander in 2003.

"I've always been interested in investigations," he said. "I have this mind -- I don't forget much, I love doing puzzles and figuring things out, figuring out why something happened."

One of the biggest cases he was involved in led to the arrest of convicted serial rapist Tony Dejuan Jackson, who was sentenced to life in prison. Jackson was charged in a series of sexual assaults in Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Inver Grove Heights, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The complicated investigation required teamwork across city, county and state law enforcement agencies -- cooperation he has seen improve, Alberio said.

But the case that won't leave him alone is the 1995 disappearance of TV anchorwoman Jodi Huisentruit from Mason City, Iowa. Jackson, who is from Mason City and was there at the time, was investigated as a possible suspect, though investigators were not able to find evidence linking him to the case.

Jackson repeatedly has denied any involvement, but Alberio is unconvinced. In retirement, Alberio said he would like to devote time to further investigation of the case. "I'm still hopeful that someday that might be resolved," he said.

Woodbury has had few homicides, but one of the first such cases Alberio investigated was the July 2000 brutal murder and sexual assault of 18-year-old Jolene Stuedemann in her parents' Woodbury home. Tony Roman Nose, 18, was identified as a suspect and arrested within 24 hours. He was sentenced to life in prison.

He worked with St. Paul Police in solving the murder of Shirley Shepherd, a 79-year-old woman who disappeared in St. Paul in the summer of 2003. Her body was subsequently found in Woodbury's Tamarack Nature Preserve.

The only time the calm, even-tempered Alberio lets down his emotional guard is when he talks about his wife, Judy, who has borne the strain of being married to a police officer for nearly three decades with patience and grace, he said.

"I have been so fortunate -- she has been with me my whole career," he said. "She's had an understanding and an acceptance of my job. I'd turn to her a lot."

Being the spouse of a police officer is an unappreciated role, because it's a dangerous job, one where stresses often are not left at the office.

"I told my wife, 'I'm too young to retire.' She's a wise woman and a great person, and she told me, 'You're not retiring, you're just moving on to the next chapter.'"

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson