Jeff Magler discovered his love of police work by accident.
“I never thought about being a police officer,” the lifetime Stillwater area resident said. “I knew I wanted to go on to school after high school, and I started taking some general classes at Lakewood Community College (now Century).”
In his second semester, some of Magler’s friends signed up for an introduction to law enforcement course, so he “took it on a whim.”
During the class, he heard Stillwater was starting a police reserve program, so he went to the police department and was hired as a reserve officer. He liked the work and decided to pursue a law enforcement career. Toward the end of his time in school, he became a part-time officer with the Stillwater department.
He’s been in law enforcement ever since. Now Magler is retiring after 31 years as a full-time officer with the Stillwater Police Department. He worked his last shift Jan. 20.
Magler started with the department full time in 1986, after a 10-month stint working at the then-new maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights.
He has seen many aspects of his job as a police officer change in the past three decades.
“I consider myself the last of the old guys,” he said. “It was a different era when I started. … It seemed like in the older days we arrested a lot more bad guys. Now we deal with a lot more mental illness, which takes a lot of time and can be unpredictable too.”
One advantage officers now have is an abundance of information at their fingertips thanks to technology, Magler said.
“Now you just type in a license plate and within seconds can tell if you’re dealing with a stolen vehicle or not,” he said.
Officers are also better prepared when they start the job now, Magler believes. For example, new officers today spend a few months going on shifts with a more experienced mentor, but when Magler started, he said he was simply handed keys to a squad car and sent out on his own.
Magler retires as a sergeant, and spent seven years running the department’s investigative unit. But one of his favorite accomplishments in his career was helping bring the D.A.R.E program to Stillwater.
Because he still enjoys his job, retiring was a difficult choice for Magler.
“Stillwater really fit me like a glove,” he said. “I landed in the right spot and got connected with the community. … Our community really supports our police department.”
Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway called Magler an outstanding officer and said he will be greatly missed.
“He always dealt with people fairly and decently,” Gannaway said. “I called him our happy warrior, because he always came to work with a smile on his face. … I never saw him in a bad mood.”
Magler says he may work part-time in retirement, but also plans to enjoy more hunting and fishing, and do projects at house.
“My wife has quite a list of remodel projects at the home that’s going to be first on the agenda,” he said.
Magler has three children — at least one is interested in going into law enforcement. Magler does have some concerns about his son going into the field, given the national tension over policing.
“My advice for him was to practice safety and treat people as you would want to be treated,” Magler said. “In order to gain respect, you’ve got to respect people in the first place.”
That was a lesson Magler learned while working at the Oak Park Heights prison.
“I tell people I grew up in prison, because I was with the worst of the worst, and I found that to get them to respect me, I had to respect them,” he said.
Officers, criminals and victims are all human beings, Magler realized. If he respected them, he could connect with them. And connecting with the community was one of the things he loved.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]