Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks and Helping Others

The other day my brother said something I thought was great, he said, "I wish Christmas was more like Thanksgiving." When asked what he meant, he said that Christmas should be more about getting together with friends and family. I think he's right, there's no pressure to get anyone gifts on Thanksgiving, it's all about sitting down, enjoying a great meal and great conversation with people you love, and giving thanks for everything you're blessed with.

When is the last time you sat down with all your family and had a meal together? It seems that a lot of people start their day by rushing to the office with a cup of coffee and a power bar, and finish it with a trip through the drive-through. That's why I love Thanksgiving, it's the one day of the year we're forced to slow down and enjoy great food and time with family (or anyone else you feel comfortable slipping into a turkey coma in front of).

For some people, Thanksgiving is about tradition, but for me it seems that every Thanksgiving is different. Some years I'm at my mom and dads, and some years I'm stuck in a hotel. But whether it be you and your spouse or you and 20 cousins, the goal is the same - great food, great conversation, spending time with loved ones, and giving thanks for all we have!

It may have been a rough year for you; maybe you lost a loved one, maybe you are struggling to find a job, or maybe life's just not treating you the way it should. But you no doubt got through those rough times with loved ones by your side, that's something to be thankful for right there. Sometimes it may seem like you don't have much, but if you look around, there's probably someone less fortunate than you not too far away.

So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful for everything you have, and while you're giving thanks, don't forget those less fortunate. This year instead of ringing a bell outside a Target for 3 hours, I thought I'd start my own Red Kettle. There's a link on the right side of my blog to donate to the Salvation Army. There's no bell ringing here, just a chance to give back to those a little less fortunate this year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Behind the Badge

We've all been there; parked on the side of the road, flashing lights in your rear view mirror, a police officer walking up to your window and explaining why they pulled you over. It's not the best situation to be in, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of the badge?

Earlier this summer, the Rosemount Police Department began advertising for a Citizens Police Academy to be held this fall. I've always had an interest in becoming a police officer so I figured this would be the perfect fit for me. I applied for the program and shortly thereafter received my acceptance letter. Little did I know, I was one of over 50 people applying to fill the 25 open spots. So, you might be asking yourself, why was I selected? While I don't know exactly what they were looking for, I have a feeling it was because of my good looks, flawless criminal record, and ninja-like reflexes. Well that.....and it could be because I applied the year before and they had to cancel it due to lack of interest.

In all seriousness, the Citizens Academy is a program designed to give residents an in-depth knowledge of their local police department. The academy I was in consisted of newspaper reporters, a state representative, law-enforcement students, local businessmen, retired citizens, The academy started on October 5th and class was held every Monday night for 7 weeks. Every class was supposed to last 3 hours, however they usually ran 30 minutes to an hour late because of the interest everyone had in the topic at hand.

Over the course of 7 weeks, they taught us a variety of topics. It started with an overview of department operations, a tour of the police facility and a review of typical police calls. One week they did DWI demonstrations with people that had actually been drinking (under the watchful eye of the police). An investigator came in from the Dakota County Drug Task Force for an interesting presentation on narcotics and his undercover work. The SWAT team (which is locally known as MAAG) showed us all of their cool toys, including armored vehicles and a flash-bang demonstration. A detective went through investigations and crime scene processing, kind of like the television show "CSI Miami" except without the beautiful women and computers that can translate a drop of blood into an address. We went out to a training facility to perform mock building searches, traffic stops, and felony stops. We also got a tour of the Dakota County Communication Center which is where all the 911 calls for the county get answered. An officer spent one of the nights teaching us about the use of force continuum. He then taught us some self-defense techniques including the use of an ASP baton and how to handcuff suspects. The 7 weeks went by very quickly and I was disappointed that it came to such a quick ending with last nights graduation. I learned a lot over the last 7 weeks but if there is one thing that stuck out, it's that the police are truly there to "Protect and Serve".

If you ever have the chance to attend a Citizens Police Academy in your town, I'd highly encourage it. Even if you don't have any interest in becoming a police officer, it's a great way to gain a greater knowledge and respect for what the police really do - when they're not busy pulling you over for speeding.

Special thanks to Chief Kalstabben, Officer Richtsmeier, and all the other officers of the Rosemount Police Department who went above and beyond to make this a great opportunity for the latest "grads" of the Citizens Police Academy.

The Squads

The Dakota County Communication Center

SWAT Team Toys

Field Testing DWI Subjects

Handcuffing the Perp

Building Searches

"Calling out" a felony subject

He's going to wish he hadn't hid in the trunk


Watch the video above to see what the police have to deal with on a daily basis.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Words Hurt

It's amazing how just a few words can ruin your day; we're going to let you go, we lost the heartbeat, you have cancer, I want a divorce, you need a new transmission.

Up until earlier this week, I had been blessed not to have heard any of those said to me. That was until I received some hard-hitting news on Monday; "Paul, I've got the worst possible news I can give you, your carrier bearing is broken. Our recommendation is a new transmission." Now, I understand, that's probably not the worst news I'll ever hear in my life, but it is probably the worst thing a service advisor at the Honda dealer can tell me. The total estimate of a new transmission - $4,500! That's a lot of money to spend on a car that's worth just that. Not exactly a day-brightener.

My once-trusty Honda is almost a decade old and has enough miles on it to have driven the circumference of the world almost 5 1/2 times. Maybe it's time to put this old girl out of her misery. Maybe, but my last Honda lasted twice this long and still ran great when I sold it. Typically, Honda's are known for running a long time with a lot of miles. My car should be just entering it's mid-life crisis, not picking out burial plots.

After a little research, I discovered this particular year and model have known transmission problems. So much so, that Honda extended the warranty to 109,000 miles. Of course, this car has 134,000 miles on it. I always wonder if the warranties they provide are designed to last as long as they know the parts will, minus a few thousand miles. I don't know, call me a conspiracy theorist.

So, now I'm doing research on where to bring my sick car, because I'm pretty sure the Honda dealer isn't in the business of giving people deals. In the meantime, if you happen to be driving through my town and see me walking home from the store with a handful of groceries and a bag of rice balanced on my head - feel free to give me a ride, I'm not doing it for the exercise.

I remember when I was a kid, people used to say "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Whoever said that was wrong. Words can hurt - but they can hurt your wallet even more.