Bayport Police Chief Laura Eastman views community policing as her calling.
Whether she’s interacting with students at Andersen Elementary, investigating a crime or serving on the board of a local nonprofit, people who know Eastman say her commitment to the community is evident.
In June, city leaders across the state took notice, when Eastman was awarded the Minnesota Women in City Government 2017 Leadership Award during the League of Minnesota Cities’ annual conference in Rochester.
Each year, Minnesota Women in City Government — an organization affiliated with the league — gives the award to one appointed official and one elected official.
“I have known Laura for many years,” said Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber, who nominated Eastman. “Her commitment to the City of Bayport is exceptional. She is highly respected by her community and her peers.”
Eastman began her career with the Minnesota Department of Corrections in 1990, and worked there about 15 years, serving as a corrections sergeant and fugitive transport officer.
Then she trained with the State Patrol, but decided the role of police officer in a smaller town suited her better.
“I felt like my calling was in a smaller community,” she said. “I really enjoy the feel of community policing and the partnership that is created.”
In 2005, Eastman started as an officer with the Bayport Police Department and became chief in 2007.
Eastman said she’d always wanted to be a police officer.
She grew up in Hudson, Wis., hearing stories about her great grandfather, James Johnson, who had been sheriff of Washburn County, Wis. One memorable tale was how her grandmother and great-grandmother accidentally got locked in the county jail while they were feeding the prisoners.
Although stories of her great-grandfather may have played a role in her desire to be a cop, Eastman said what she really wanted was to help people.
“I’ve always felt like part of what I wanted to do was support and work with community members, and that role is best described as a guardian,” she said.
She wanted to “work with the community to make it better.”
That’s how she views her role as police chief, and others have noticed.
“I have grandkids that go to Andersen [Elementary], and I’ve seen how the kids just love her and how much she does,” McComber said. “With all that’s going on in the world today, it’s nice to see kids having so much respect for police and police having so much respect for the community.”
Jennifer Pinski, president of Minnesota Women in City Government and city clerk of Oak Park Heights, said one reason Eastman stood out among this year’s leadership award candidates was the broad support for her nomination among respected community leaders. Letters of support came from law enforcement colleagues, a county commissioner, local legislators and more.
“We normally don’t get this number of people writing letters of support, so it was really exceptional,” Pinski said. “Every one of them had personal information about something they thought she was contributing.”
“As an elected official, I am especially aware of the value of grassroots, people-to-people service for all men and women in government,” wrote Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel in his letter of support. “No one provides that service like Chief Eastman, with her involvement in summer safety camp, outreach to community seniors, gun-safety classes, and collections of contributions to community safety-net programs.”
Eastman said she’s grateful for the award, as well as the professional women she views as role models, such as Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety Mona Dohman, Bayport Mayor Susan St. Ores, McComber, Sen. Karin Housley and Rep. Kathy Lohmer.
“They’re trailblazers for women in corrections and elected positions,” Eastman said. “They’ve made our jobs easier by setting examples for us to follow with their strong leadership skills.”
As for her own performance, Eastman says: “I do my job based on how I would want the police chief and officers to interact with the community I’m living in. I really just feel like I’m doing my job, and I am not sure that deserves an award.”
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]