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29 years enough for O'Leary

A call coming over the radio beckoned officer Jim O'Leary away from this interview. A day away from retiring the longtime Rosemount Police officer was still taking calls. It's the way he prefers things.

After 29 years in the department O'Leary is retiring. It's going to be hard to walk away, but he said it feels like the right time.

"Twenty-nine years was enough I guess," said O'Leary. "I'm not dead weight around here. I'm walking out still able to do it."

O'Leary, who grew up in Rosemount, started on the department as a reserve officer right out of high school. He later became a part time officer and, after going to college, took on a full-time position.

"When I started you always worked by yourself except for on the weekends.... There were only six full-time officers," O'Leary said.

How the times and police work have changed. O'Leary said he is amazed at some of the changes that have occurred, especially regarding technology. His patrol car is now a mini office complete with computer, radio and video camera.

"When I started the city had one computer and the (police) department didn't have any. Now I have one in my car and at my desk," said O'Leary.

While he could have moved on to a bigger department, O'Leary said he has enjoyed working in his hometown because of the trust and connection he has with the residents.

"I've never worked or lived more than 10 miles from here," O'Leary said.

Police chief Gary Kalstabakken said O'Leary's connection and intimate knowledge of Rosemount came in useful as an police officer, especially when he was in charge of investigating forgery and fraud in the community.

"Anything Jim did he did well," Kalstabakken said.

As an officer O'Leary has spent his entire career working nights on the road. O'Leary said he has enjoyed working nights and that he stayed on patrol because working behind a desk never appealed to him.

"I've pushed a squad car for 29 years.... I'm much more comfortable in my car than at a desk," said O'Leary.

In 1988 he was promoted to night supervisor and he has held that post ever since. As the night supervisor O'Leary has helped train many of the new officers on the department because most start with the late shift.

"Most of the people I work with weren't born when I started," O'Leary said with a laugh.

Training new officers is something O'Leary has enjoyed, though, and despite their young age O'Leary said he has a good crew.

Kalstabakken said O'Leary's willingness to get out in the community and do the hands on work made him a good leader for the department.

"He was never afraid to be out there doing what needed to be done, I think that provided a real motivation and bond for the guys that worked with him," Kalstabakken said.

Working nights has allowed O'Leary to do what he considers his biggest accomplishment on the department. Over the past several years O'Leary has led the departments Safe and Sober program.

Under his leadership the department has drastically increased the number of DUI arrests it has made. He said he has noticed he responds to fewer accidents and there are a lot more cars left in the bar parking lots as well.

While he personally doesn't make a lot of the arrests anymore he motivated his crew to follow his lead and they have responded. In 2008 the department made 230 DWI arrests.

In addition to working with the Rosemount Police Department O'Leary has gotten involved with cracking down on drunk driving county wide as the coordinator for the Dakota County Traffic Safety Project. In late January O'Leary received an award for his efforts from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

While he is proud of getting drunk drivers off the road, he said he won't miss dealing with them.

"It gets old after a while," said O'Leary.

Generally, though ,O'Leary said he's enjoyed being a police officer.

"It's been a good job," said O'Leary of police work. "I'll miss the people and the trust they have put in me."

At the age of 50, O'Leary isn't sure what he'll do with his retirement. He plans to find another job but isn't sure what he will do. Right now he's just weighing his options.

"I can't sit and do nothing," O'Leary said.