OnFocus – Next month, Lieutenant Dennis Keffer will celebrate his 25-year anniversary with Marshfield Police Department. While growing up in St. Paul, Keffer never planned on becoming a police officer, but 25 years later he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I took one of those career tests in high school and it indicated law enforcement as one of the possibilities,” he said. “I then connected with the St. Paul Police Department’s ‘Police Explore’ program and did that for about a year and a half in high school and at that time determined that I didn’t want to be a police officer.”
While attending St. Norbert College, where he majored in Communications, Keffer worked for campus security and his outlook changed.
“At the end of college, I realized that I appreciated the opportunity to be out and about and helping people and interacting with people a lot, so then I went to the police academy,” he said.
Keffer then attended Fox Valley Technical College- Law Enforcement Recruit Academy, from which he graduated in 1994.
After the academy, he worked security at Mall of America for nine months before being offered a job in Marshfield, where he moved with his now-wife, Michelle.
“We moved from Mall of America to Northway Mall,” he said. “Interestingly, I worked with more people on my night shift at Mall of America – when it was closed – than I do on my patrol shift here.”
Keffer began his career at MPD as a patrol officer, then became the first Middle School Liaison Officer- a role he served in for five years. He’s also served as a Field Training Officer, Lead Officer, and is currently a Patrol Lieutenant supervising one of four Marshfield Police Department shifts. He’s also been a member of the Special Response Team, Bike Patrol Coordinator, Peace Officer Memorial Day annual event coordinator, Marshfield Police Auxiliary Liaison Officer, and more.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything, I guess,” he said. “Starting off, you’re focused on responding to calls for service, traffic stops, other self-initiated activity, looking into concerns. My day now as a Patrol Lieutenant is different than that, because it’s a different role but also because calls for service have changed and technology has changed.”
During his time in Marshfield, Keffer has experienced a wide variety of calls and situations.
“You remember the really tragic ones. Those ones tend to stick with you a little bit. As well as the ones where you’re able to help someone,” he said. “Sometimes the tragic ones are the ones where you’re helping someone through it a bit more.”
“I generally think that most of the Marshfield community doesn’t know the degree of concerns or issues related to drugs and mental illness and that kind of cuts both ways,” he added. “It’s a blessing that we’re doing our jobs and addressing it and helping people and making it so people can go about their day and not be overly concerned about it. But it’s also an issue in that some people don’t know that there is the degree of concern that exists in our community.”
For Keffer, the most challenging part of the job is the inherent negativity.
“I think it’s related to the notion that as police officers we’re in contact with that 5% of the population more frequently and working with people in their most challenging situations. So, our focus of often on negative things happening. There’s a little bit of a weight that goes with that that and we have to be conscience of that,” he said. “We have to be mindful that we are in contact with people in their worst situations and we have to recognize that person is more than that situation. Then, also recognize that society is more thanall the negativity we get called to.”
Keffer said that community involvement and family activities with his wife and two now-adult sons are what has kept him balanced throughout the years.
“Doing things through the years like coaching soccer and doing things with my family are what re-ground me in the good that’s out there in the world,” he said.
That community involvement stems from who Keffer is as a person and from his upbringing. During his time in Marshfield, he has volunteered with various organizations, including Marshfield Area Community Foundation, Movies in the Park Committee, Special Olympics, Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin, and as a soccer coach and church member at Our Lady of Peace.
“It’s how you meet other people in the community and connect with resources,” he said, adding that he’s also thankful for the community support he receives.
“We work in a very supportive community,” he said. “Just overall in general, I hope that it is well-earned and I believe that it is well-earned. I also believe that there are things we need to be mindful of and potentially do better at, but overall the community support is good.”
During his tenure, Keffer has also completed many leadership development programs and attended several conferences and workshops dedicated to different areas of police work, including risk management, managing generational diversity, and public relations – all of which he feels are important.
“Some of that is the connection with people, being mindful of how other community’s problems and problem-solving relate to our city and department,” he said. “It’s easy to get a bit myopic, especially having been with the same department for 25 years. Easy to fall into the trap of ‘this is how we’ve always done things’ so as police and as an organization, communication with other leaders can let you know some of the things you can do better and do differently.”
Having worn the badge now for 25 years, Keffer is continually seeking to improve and grow in his abilities.
“You start off wanting to be a good police officer and there’s lots of different levels to that. Some things I do well, some things I don’t do as well. That’s still my challenge- to be a good shift supervisor knowing that there are things I do well and things that I can improve on,” he said. “My goals are a little bit more short-term in that I just want to make sure that I’m serving the people that I work with well and serving the community well.”
His favorite part of the job is working with his team through a challenging situation and resolving it for the community.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said.
For those considering a career in law enforcement, Keffer encourages them to stay positive.
“Especially in this environment now, I say that there are still opportunities to help and impact people in a positive way and to not lose sight of that,” he said. “I see that every day with the people that I work with, the care and compassion that they are showing people and through the arrests that are made that we are making an impact still even in this environment. There is still great opportunity to make an impact here.”
What’s kept him motivated through the years is a continual drive and passion to help people, as well as a healthy sense of humor.
“The thing that keeps me going is the things I’ve touched on earlier: each day is different, with different opportunities to help people in different ways and help the community,” he said. “25 years doesn’t seem like as big of a thing to me. It’s just kind of part of this journey. I’ve been appreciative of the community hiring me and the many positive interactions that I’ve had with people. Just like a lot of officers, I care about what’s going on. I’d like to think people felt I listened to them well and did my best to address their concerns.”
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