C-I grad heads State Patrol Brainerd station
Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District Capt. Joe Dwyer was always drawn to the military growing up--until something traumatic happened when he was 17-years-old.
Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District Capt. Joe Dwyer was always drawn to the military growing up-until something traumatic happened when he was 17-years-old.
In the early 1990s, Dwyer's parents, owners of a small convenient store called The Green Roof Store north of Crosby, were robbed at gunpoint.
"There was a gun in my mom's face and my dad's ... and at this time and age, this was a violent crime in this area," Dwyer said. "We were not used to seeing crimes like this. I was there, but I didn't see it all go down. I was so impressed with the investigation conducted and I watched it go through the court process. ... Seeing the professionalism of law enforcement on the scene I knew at this time this is what I wanted to do."
Two and a half decades later, the 1991 Crosby-Ironton High School graduate-who was No. 2 out of 98 classmates in his class-is in charge of the state patrol's Brainerd District. Dwyer, 43, was promoted to commander with the state patrol's Brainerd District this past October. Dwyer, like many, worked his way up the ladder. In 1995, Dwyer earned his law enforcement skills training from Alexandria Technical School and his bachelor's of science degree in law enforcement from Mankato State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
Dwyer interned with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and rode with Chief Deputy Sheriff Dennis Lasher and Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston.
"These two took me under their wings," Dwyer said. "They provided me with so many experiences, ones I wouldn't have had if I didn't have the opportunities I did."
When Dwyer did his internship with Crow Wing County, state troopers Eric Sungaard and Randy Stanfield, who have since retired, asked him if he ever thought about working for the state patrol. Dwyer said at that time he thought it was too early in his law enforcement career to think about working for the state patrol.
"I always thought the state patrol was for seasoned law enforcement veterans, not college kids out of school," Dwyer said. "I didn't know the opportunity existed (for younger people.) They opened my eyes for the possibility of working for the state patrol someday."
Always having this thought in mind, 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 City 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 held 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.
"I basically moved 19 miles when I took the position with the Brainerd District," Dwyer said. "Our residency requires us to live in the district station.
"This was my final step in coming home."
Dwyer has many accomplishments over his 20-year law enforcement career, including graduating at the top of his class in the Minnesota State Trooper Candidate School in 1997; being the top driving while intoxicated enforcer in 2004 and 2009; earning a certification of recognition in leadership from the Department of Public Safety in 2016 from Commissioner Mona Dohman; and earning two lifesaving awards in August of 2006 and May of 2011.
Dwyer earned the 2006 lifesaving award for his role in a pursuit of burglary suspects in Garrison. The suspect vehicle rolled, ejecting the driver and trapping the passenger. The vehicle then started on fire. Dwyer took quick action and extinguished the fire and freed the passenger.
"It was scary," Dwyer said of the 2006 incident. "Witnessing an overturned vehicle right in front of you and having some responsibility to that because they were fleeing and processing that and then stepping out of the vehicle and seeing it on fire. Questions on what can happen next go through your mind. You're heavily invested in to end the pursuit without injuries or negative outcomes.
"This was a stolen vehicle. The suspects had just burglarized a liquor store and I was just going to pull them over for a speeding violation. At that time I didn't know they were connected to the burglary."
The 2011 lifesaving award came after Dwyer was on his way back to Baxter from Milaca and he observed a motorist driving the wrong way on the highway. Dwyer turned around to get to the vehicle, when it collided with another vehicle, killing that driver.
"The driver (going the wrong way) was unconscious and not breathing," Dwyer said. "I restored the airway and at that point he began breathing again."
Seeing a lot of tragedy on the roads over the years, Dwyer said having a good support network at work and home is key to helping him deal with the incidents.
"Being able to talk about the things that occur and being able to process that as a family and at work helps," Dwyer said. "It doesn't get any easier. And this is where my role has shifted over the years. In my current district commander position, I'm more orchestration, making sure the troopers are provided for and cared for. I don't see day-to-day devastation that occurs out on the roadways, but I make sure they are well equipped physically and emotionally to handle the stresses of the jobs."
Dwyer said his years of experience in law enforcement helped him prepare for his role as state patrol commander. As the commander, he sees the larger picture, such as traffic safety and what can be done to prevent fatalities and crashes.
Being a leader was a gradual transition for Dwyer, who looks up to the former captains of the state patrol, including Sean Meagher, the man he succeeded. Dwyer said being involved in the state patrol academies also helped him groom for future advancements.
As the commander, Dwyer is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District. One of the main duties of his job is to carry out the state patrol's mission with traffic safety and Toward Zero Deaths. TZD is data collected to improve education, enforcement, engineering and emergency medical and trauma services and to eventually have zero fatalities on Minnesota roads. Last year there were 389 fatalities and so far this year there have been 63. The TZD goal is 300 fatalities in 2020. The numbers are trending down-in 1990 there were 568 fatalities.
"I am consumed with reducing the fatality crashes in the lakes area," Dwyer said. "Last year there were 28 fatalities in Brainerd and I want this number to be less-that is my goal."
To work toward the TZD goal, it takes collaboration and the state patrol works with the surrounding police and sheriff agencies.
"We are just one piece of the puzzle," Dwyer said. "It takes a huge collaboration in driving forward to achieve zero deaths on our roadways, but we are doing that and not everyone in the state can say that. The cooperation we have with law enforcement agencies is priceless. ... We all are a well functioning team. We are surrounded by very good people."
Dwyer also compiles numbers for distracted driving, speeding, DWI and seat belt use and uses the data for educational purposes for having a safer public.
Outside of the TZD goal, Dwyer wants to maintain the state patrol's reputation of being a "great place to work."
Dwyer said the state patrol is fortunate on how society sees its troopers. He said the state patrol has a long history of providing respectful and professional services to the public.
"I don't mean to sound arrogant, but we are held in high regard," Dwyer said. "But this is not to discount the political and social climate we are in. We continue to operate and treat every individual we come into contact with professionally and respectfully and we let our conduct dictate how the encounter will go and this goes a long way, you treat people with respect you will receive a lot of respect coming back."
In the Brainerd District there are 33 troopers, one district lieutenant, the commander and office support staff, commercial vehicle inspectors and a school bus inspector.
An exciting addition of Dwyer's job this year is helping with the planning of Super Bowl LII, which will be hosted Feb. 4, 2018, in the U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Dwyer is serving as the planning liaison for civil disturbance and field force operations. Dwyer is working with other law enforcement, including Minneapolis police, on providing enough security and enforcement in and around the stadium, the city of Minneapolis and surrounding cities during the football event.
"The hard part of the planning is funding," Dwyer said. "It all revolves around funding and finding a balance. Troopers are paid out of a trunk highway fund, so we have to make sure we're aligned with our agency's mission. ... There will be a high visual presence of officers for the event."
Dwyer said being on the committee for planning security for the Super Bowl is surreal.
"Never thought a small town Crosby-Ironton boy would go on to this role in planning a response and civil disobedience in the state, which just so happens to be the Super Bowl ... I'm pretty excited."
Dwyer is proud to work for the state patrol and is glad to serve an area he grew up in, as he has made many connections with people over his lifetime.
Dwyer met Gary Gutenkauf, a deputy with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, when he was investigating his parent's business when it was robbed. Now he works with Gutenkauf professionally. Dwyer also rode with several of the current law enforcement officers in the lakes area, including Sgt. DJ Downie, also with the sheriff's office.
Family: Married to Jess Dwyer and have a 22-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. They have a cat named Nina and in May they are getting a Rhodesian ridgeback, whose name will be Reagan.
Favorite music: "I'd have to say 80's rock, such a Metallica, Guns-n-Roses, but my all-time favorite is Skid Row."
Dream job: "I have it .. If I had to choose a different career, I've always said I would do something with a railroad. My grandpa was a conductor."
Favorite TV show: "Blue Bloods."
Book on your nightstand: Tony Dungy's "The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge."
Favorite movies: "'A Few Good Men' for a drama and 'Step Brothers' for a comedy."
Favorite Food: "Pizza. Pepperoni with green olives."
Biggest pet peeve: "Unfinished tasks."
Something people don't know about you: "I was accepted into the Naval academy. I also have a goal to visit every professional baseball stadium in the U.S. I've been to a half dozen.
"Another thing people may not know is my wife and I run marathons."