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Captain concludes commendable career

<i>Submitted photo</i> River Falls Police Captain John Stapleton said last week about his impending retirement, "It's just time to move on and start babysitting the grandkids more."

River Falls Police Captain John Stapleton said last week about his impending retirement, "It's just time to move on and start babysitting the grandkids more."

Stapleton said a lot has changed during his 34 1/2 years on the force, including the personnel with whom he works. The 55-year-old captain thinks he may be "getting sort of old" for the business, especially when 29 of the 30 fellow recruits from his 1975 class have already hung up their badges.

He said he's sure to stay busy with his new lifestyle. Stapleton and wife Kim, the nursing director at The Lutheran Home, have a small hobby farm and team of oxen.

The soon-to-be-former captain enjoys woodworking, most often making furniture but sometimes cabinetry, too. He said he'll be helping with the 2010 Pierce County Farm Technology Days and may spend more time with a recently retired neighbor.

Stapleton, who grew up on a dairy farm outside Roberts and attended River Falls schools, said his father-in-law still farms and also may "put him to work."

He's looking forward to spending more time with his family, which also includes sons Kyle and John as well as three grandchildren: 18-month-old David, 2-year-old Ellie and 4-year-old Lane.

Rising through the ranks

Stapleton said the father of a friend who stood up as best man at his wedding worked in security at the university. In passing he told Stapleton, who was going to school and working at a gas station at the time, about the State Patrol test.

The officer-to-be took the test but then heard from another friend, former Police Captain Carl Schrank, that the River Falls force had an opening.

Stapleton said about patrol officer duties, "You get to deal with the good and bad of people."

He didn't enjoy dealing with all the accidents and death officers must handle. He prefers remembering the times he was able to help people, like when he used his EMT training to help deliver a baby. The woman birthed a healthy girl who ended up graduating with Stapleton's son.

The department promoted him to sergeant in 1992, adding a lot more administrative tasks to his job. Sergeants go on patrol and supervise other officers.

In 1998, he succeeded as captain the man who'd originally referred him to the job.

Captains supervise sergeants and says Stapleton, "I basically run the day-to-day operations (of the department)."

He said he'll miss the daily contact with a lot of good officers and staff plus working closely with the utility and public works departments. He said they were always "very helpful" and that he'd formed many friendships with those people.

He says he won't miss middle management and being responsible for implementing decisions often unpopular with one "side" or the other.

The captain said he's liked working with great staff and fellow officers and declares that the department has a lot of good people.

He said he likes the work's diversity.

"It's varied and something different all the time."

Positive progress

Stapleton began his career well before the dawning of the information age but learned quickly.

"I've developed most of the technology we use now," he said.

He helped make a change from revolvers to automatic service weapons. He helped to get computers installed in all the squad cars as well as to implement software that enables local police to share data with St. Croix County.

The captain recalls when it was time to find computer monitors. At the time, Panasonic sold the most popular brand named Toughbook, but he found a little-known brand called Dell and paid about 1/3 what the Toughbooks cost.

When Stapleton started, his training consisted of a one-day orientation. He facilitated the program that requires new officers to train with another for 11 weeks before going out on their own.

He transitioned the ever-changing work-schedule system from paper and pencil to an electronic system. He implemented the more efficient method of digital transcription over using the more vulnerable tapes.

Stapleton initiated the Traffic and Criminal Software (TraCS) program, which eliminated the data-entry steps associated with sending crash reports and traffic and municipal citations. His efforts also brought to River Falls an automated parking-citation system.

He procured the hands-free technology that allows an officer to read aloud a license-plate number into a system with voice recognition. The captain developed a procedures manual so the department could easily manage any task even when a person was out for any reason.

Stapleton says he's leaving the department in very capable hands, from the staff to the other sergeants.

"They do an excellent job," he said. "They're people oriented and want to do a good job helping. They're a sharp group, and I think they'll do very well."