From expanding department to embracing technology, retiring Alexandria police chief proud of legacy
Rick Wyffels spent more than 30 years with the Alexandria Police Department.
After more than 30 years with the Alexandria Police Department, Rick Wyffels says goodbye as he retires as the city’s police chief. Wednesday, Sept. 30 is his last day with the department – almost 33 years to the day he started, which was Oct. 1, 1987.
But his career spans nearly 40 years, as Wyffels worked in two other departments before moving to the Alexandria area. After graduating from the law enforcement program at the Alexandria Technical and Community College, Wyffels started his career in 1984 with the Minneota Police Department, which he said was one of the toughest and hardest jobs he had because it was a two-man department. He then worked with the Redwood Falls Police Department, which was a little bigger department.
Because he wanted something more – to expand within a department, a bigger community and school district – Wyffels and his wife, Doreen, moved to Alexandria.
When he left the Redwood Falls Police Department, however, he questioned why he was leaving and said he may have even teared up a little. But after settling into his new department, he knew he made the right choice and that the lakes area would become the perfect home for his family.
When he started with the Alexandria Police Department, there were about 15 officers. Today, there are about 25. And, Wyffels had a hand in hiring all of the men and women who are part of the department today. When hiring new officers, one of the questions that he likes candidates to think about is whether or not the department is a good fit for them.
Although it is important that candidates are the right fit for the department, Wyffels believes it is just as important that the department is the right fit for the candidate.
“I want potential officers to ask themselves, ‘Is it the right job for me? Is it the right fit,’ ” he said.
One of things he is most proud of in his career is hiring the number of officers the community needed based on the community needs, not necessarily the size of the community. It wasn’t about power, he said, but it was for the right reasons of keeping the community safe, along with building relationships within the community.
He said he fought hard to make sure the department had the right number of officers.
“I am proud of the department,” he said “They work hard and do a great job.”
Looking back at his career in Alexandria, Wyffels has many moments that he is proud of and will remember fondly, such as becoming the police captain at age 26. He applied for the position not thinking he would actually get it. He was young and had not been with the department for that long.
When he did get the job of captain, he said it was kind of like a double edge sword because he was happy, but some of the guys he worked with maybe weren’t as happy because he was so young. He said there was a bit of transition period.
“I went from being a well-liked patrol officer to captain. It was like being promoted to the enemy. I had to transform. It taught me a lot,” he said. “And I think it helped make me a better chief.”
In late 2006, Wyffels applied for another position – police chief, a position, he said, that he really did want and one he worked hard to get. Wyffels became the Alexandria police chief on Oct. 31, 2006, replacing Chuck Nettestad.
When working with then chief Nettestad, Wyffels said he remembers back in 1997, when he convinced him that the department needed digital cameras. Nettestad was reluctant, he said, but Wyffels informed him that at that time, film was costing the department close to $4,000.
“We ended up buying those digital cameras,” he said.
When it comes to technology, Wyffels has always been at the forefront. When the internet first came out, he immediately got involved in learning more about it and recalled that he was the sixth customer of Alexandria Light and Power to acquire internet services, which was back in 1996, he said.
He also recalled that once the internet became more popular, so did internet crimes, such as child pornography. He remembered at that time he was invited to meet with commanders of the police association to teach them about ways to prevent internet crimes and child exploitation.
“I met with about 40 commanders that day and I was the only one who had the internet,” the chief said.
His passion for the internet led him to eventually serve and represent Minnesota on the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Systems police advisory group. He even served over the board as chairman for a number of years. In addition, Wyffels served as president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
“I have seen so many changes over the years in regard to technology,” said Wyffels. “With technology, there is so much progress and growth and it continues to be exciting.”
Memories he won’t forget
Wyffels has had his share of tough cases and many he won’t soon forget.
“I’ve taken home some heavy weight, as some cases were just plain ugly,” he said.
He remembers as a new officer in Minneota going on a call for a man who committed suicide and it being someone he graduated high school with. That was hard, he said.
He could recall numerous homicides and many other horrific cases he dealt with as a patrol officer.
But his biggest case, which ended up having a happy outcome, was in 2017 when then 15-year-old Jasmine Block of Alexandria was kidnapped from her home and held captive for 29 days before bravely escaping and swimming across a lake to safety.
What happened to Block was beyond horrible and was a terrible case, but it had a good result, he said.
He remembers how well so many different agencies worked together on that case – the FBI, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Douglas County Sheriff’s office and other neighboring law enforcement agencies and emergency responder agencies.
“There were no turf wars, we truly all worked together because it was all about the victim and getting her home safe,” he said. “I watched how much kindness and respect there was between all those different agencies. Building those bridges like that is so important.”
One of the lowest points in his career, Wyffels recalled with a heavy heart, was on Jan. 30, 2010, when Officer Patrick Callaghan was off-duty and died as a result of a snowmobile crash.
“I think about him a lot,” said Wyffels. “I hired Pat. He was awesome and brought a lot of good to our department. We were all in shock. We couldn’t believe it and we were all hurting. It took a long time to move on from that.”
Looking ahead at all the free time he will have, Wyffels said he is excited to spend time with family, including his wife, two daughters, two son-in-laws and four grandchildren.
He will miss all who work at the Alexandria Police Department.
“They are my family and I got their back,” he said. “I am so proud of that place.”
But now that he is retired, Wyffels said he is hoping to find something to do, another job, that will fit this next chapter of his life. He plans to stay in the Alexandria area, but definitely has plans to find a job in the private sector.
“I’ll land on my feet. I have a good skill set – farming, construction, team building, people skills – I have a lot to offer,” said Wyffels. “I hope someone has a position for me. They might have to broaden their mindset and just give me a chance. I need something to do. I need to be challenged and pushed. But I guarantee when someone does give me a chance, they won’t regret it.”
He’ll be missed
Here is what some of Chief Wyffels staff had to say about him:
Scott Kent, former captain and now the new chief: I would like to extend a huge appreciation to Chief Rick Wyffels for taking a chance on me in 2001 and again in 2006 when I was promoted to captain. He has allowed me and provided me with opportunity after opportunity. He thanked him for his teaching process, people and patience.
Det. Jay Halverson: I will miss our conversations about growing up on a farm and the old days at the police department. I will miss using the old saying, “this stuff” just didn’t happen back on the farm. That’s what I’ll remember most, the laughs!
Sgt. Kevin Guenther: Chief Wyffels should be proud of his accomplishments and long healthy career. He has always been proud of the team at the police department. I’m personally thankful that he gave me an opportunity to work for this city when he hired me. I wish him and his family all the best in the future. I hope he enjoys everything there is to enjoy about retirement.
Officer Darcie Zirbes: I guess the thing that stands out the most to me is the fact that he and I share an APD anniversary date. His first official day as chief was my first day with the police department so we shared a “Happy Anniversary” with one another every Nov. 1, and that special connection will be lost now that he is retired.
Mary Hinzmann, records: I have worked with Rick for many years and I will miss his unmistakable laugh in the office halls.
Sgt. Tina Lake: I was the first licensed female officer hired, with Rick doing the hiring/background process at the time. I’ve got to say he’s got good judgement! Kidding aside, my point is that he’s been a part of this department my entire career and I can’t even begin to count all the things that have changed in the last 20 years – from squad cars, to equipment to technology to trainings, and Rick always did his best to make sure that we had the best training and tools to do our job. He had a huge part in how this department is today – a department I’m so honored and proud to be a part of. I also saw a change in Rick, for the better, over the years and I wish him all the best as he heads into the next chapter.