Joseph Dwyer continues to go places since walking the halls as a 1991 Crosby-Ironton High School graduate, working everyday to make the state of Minnesota a better and safer place to live.
Dwyer left his post in October 2019 as captain of the Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District to take part in a special project for the state patrol. What Dwyer didn’t know at the time was the special project events in 2020 would be intense and dangerous, leading the Crosby native to spend more than a year sometimes working in environments of civil unrest across the state and country.
Dwyer, 47, was promoted to major, succeeding Maj. Matt Sokol, who retired June 2 after 27 years with the Minnesota State Patrol. He said it was with mixed emotions when he sold the family home and left the Crosby area — a place he has called home his entire life — to move to the Twin Cities metro area to work out of the St. Paul State Patrol office.
Dwyer’s special assignment began with the 2018 Super Bowl LII, when the game was played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Dwyer was the mobile response team commander at that time, providing support for the Minneapolis Police Department to assist with crowd control and any civil unrest during the 52nd Super Bowl. He then moved on to the second assignment with the same type of work for the NCAA Final Four in 2019.
"We wholeheartedly believe in upholding the Constitution and making sure that people's voices are heard and balancing that with public safety"
— Maj. Joseph Dwyer, Minnesota State Patrol
Dwyer — who at the time also performed his captain duties — said both assignments were successful and a collaborative effort among law enforcement throughout the state to make sure everything ran smoothly.
Once the two large sporting events were completed, Dwyer left his captain post permanently to prepare for a major utility replacement project to begin in the state — the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project. The new Line 3 will travel more than 1,000 miles and carry an average of 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin, where a terminal is located. In Minnesota, 337 miles of pipeline will be installed. The replacement project has been controversial, as opponents of the pipeline protested the installation across the state, with people opposed chaining themselves to heavy equipment or blocking roads and entrances to the construction sites in attempts to stop the work.
Dwyer was part of the Northern Lights Task Force, a law enforcement collaborative overseeing police response to Enbridge protests. As the state prepared for civil unrest geared around the pipeline project the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, came about, leading to worldwide protests against police brutality, racism and lack of police accountability. Rioters stormed through Minneapolis damaging many businesses and burning the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct building.
“This was a very challenging time for many agencies and (the state patrol) was not exempt from that,” Dwyer said. “This was unlike any other event in this age or this era that Minnesota law enforcement has faced. It’s really just an unprecedented event that we navigated through.”
Dwyer said in May and June 2020 during the riots the state patrol activated the mobile response team consisting of 100 state troopers from around the state who were deployed to different parts of Minneapolis “dealing with very agitated, violent riotous individuals for a 13-day deployment.”
Dwyer said he probably should have been worried about his safety during the riots, but he wasn’t because as a leader he was more focused on the safety of the people under his supervision. Dwyer said the things he directed the mobilization team with the state patrol to do is hard to describe in words. He said one specific night, the team had to patrol a city street in the dark behind a high rise apartment building, which was dangerous, as the area had a high potential for an attack. The team patrolled the streets as buildings and vehicles were on fire, and they tried to surround rioters to prevent any further criminal behavior.
“We would have the team walk up to the fire and put it out with the resources we had as there were limited fire extinguishers,” Dwyer said. “The fires were not totally put out and we asked our troopers to walk through that and go up to the next fire where they were encountered by a vehicle rolling at them unattended. They did all this and still continued to try to apprehend the individuals.”
Dwyer said the mobilization team conducted a lot of training on crowd containment and management that helped prepare the team for the 2020 events. Dwyer said the biggest lesson he learned this past year is to always stick with the initial plan. He said at times there were thoughts of going off the plan in the essence of time but, in the end, going with the plan was most effective.
Dwyer was one of four commanders in charge of the special assignments. Initially, Dwyer thought this was too many people in charge, but said luckily they had four commanders as it was needed to deal with all the events that followed the death of George Floyd. Dwyer said last summer he spent every weekend at the state’s Capitol, providing security with all the demonstration events occurring, which involved conflicting groups.
“We wholeheartedly believe in upholding the Constitution and making sure that people's voices are heard and balancing that with public safety,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer said this past year’s unprecedented events — including the backlash against law enforcement — have taken a toll on him both professionally and personally.
“It weighs on a person,” Dwyer said. “It brings about the importance of having a strong peer group to be able to lean on them to help process the various events, and then on the home front to have the strength of support there because ... you bring a lot of what you deal with at work through the door at home. You're still trying to manage those feelings and everything that has occurred in just that single day, but that's the nature of law enforcement. Whether you experience a horrific crash or a certain call that you go on and these periods of civil unrest you tend to bring a lot of that home. It helps to have that support group and having ways to process that in a healthy way.”
Dwyer feels a majority of the public supports law enforcement.
“I think by and large that society, the mass amount of the public does support law enforcement,” Dwyer said. “It's evident when we go to a gas station or go eat somewhere or anytime when we're in uniform it's not uncommon ... that people are grateful and ...thankful of the job that we do. But I also know, it's just a difficult time and there's a segment of the population that doesn't support law enforcement, and they're dealing with a lot of issues.”
Looking back, then forward
Looking back at the past year with the special assignments, Dwyer said he has been fortunate to be able to be a part of these opportunities throughout his entire career. Dwyer said he has been able to contribute to the greater good of not just the Minnesota State Patrol, but to the entire state. Dwyer said he takes pride in neutrality no matter what the project. He said it’s important for people to be heard and that their constitutional rights are upheld, while at the same time public safety must be protected.
“We often find ourselves smack bad in the middle of things,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer stays humble when talking about his next step in his career, as he was promoted to major. He will supervise the southern region of the state, which include the state patrol districts of Rochester (District 2100); Mankato, (District 2200); Marshall (District 2300) and St. Cloud (2600); as well as the Commercial Vehicles Section and Investigative Special Services, which includes crash reconstruction, K-9, vehicle crimes and unmanned aerial vehicle (drones) program.
The state patrol has 11 districts in the state and is led by State Patrol Chief Col. Matthew Langer. Each district office is led by a captain and is staffed with troopers and investigators, along with communication and support staff to assist in the patrol's missions.
Dwyer looks forward to working with all the section commanders at a different level as major to find more ways to make the highways safer for people.
Dwyer started his law enforcement career by working part time with the Deerwood Police Department in April of 1996. Eight months later, he was offered a full-time job with the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Dwyer, who was 23 years old then, was working in the drug investigation division, then called the NET VI Drug Task Force. He worked undercover at high schools, buying narcotics from students.
In May of 1997, a position with the state patrol opened. It was an offer Dwyer could not turn down. Dwyer went through a rigorous 16-week “military stress academy” before going out in the field. He started out as a road trooper in downtown Minneapolis, patrolling the freeways and interstates in the Twin Cities metro area for 18 months. Dwyer then transferred to the Aitkin District station, where he stayed for 11 years.
Dwyer took on special assignments with the state patrol and worked in training and development with the trooper academy at Camp Ripley. Dwyer served as a staff officer in 2005, lead staff officer in 2006, senior staff officer in 2007 and a staff sergeant at the trooper candidate school in 2009; and then was the academy sergeant/coordinator of the state patrol training academy in 2011.
In 2009, Dwyer transferred to the state patrol’s Brainerd District station and was promoted as captain in October 2016.