Fort Dodge Police Department: To protect and serve

New leaders have plans to join community, police

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Police Resource Officer Cody Harris shows the Cooper Elementary School students the radio microphone clipped to his uniform shirt Thursday morning while reading a book about being a police officer to the students.

One could almost say that the Fort Dodge Police Department has undergone a makeover.

Due to the retirements of a number of longtime officers and subsequent promotions, the leadership team of the Fort Dodge Police Department looks different than it did just a year ago.

The most visible changes were Roger Porter taking over as police chief after Kevin Doty retired, and Cory Husske being promoted to assistant chief to fill the vacancy created by Porter’s promotion.

In addition, longtime Capt. Bob Thode retired after more than 30 years with the Police Department. Ryan Gruenberg, at the time a sergeant, was promoted to take his place.

Four other officers received promotions as well; Jody Chansler, Don McLaren and Zach Stanley were all promoted to sergeant, while Dennis Quinn was promoted to lieutenant.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Officers with the Fort Dodge Police Department work to corral Josh Pendleton, 33, of Fort Dodge, Sunday afternoon after he allegedly assaulted a family member, according to Lt. Dennis Mernka, of the Fort Dodge Police Department. Pendleton had to be pepper sprayed before being transported to the Webster County Jail, Mernka reported.

The department also hired four new officers.

Porter said this is an exciting time for the department.

“Due to retirements, we lost a lot of experienced, veteran officers, which is kind of scary,” Porter said. “But in the same token, it’s pretty exciting to see what’s coming up. I know we’ve got a lot of good leaders that are filling those positions.”

It helps that all the department’s officers have the same mindset.

“We have a lot of the same visions,” he said. “Getting all those people on the same page is a great thing. It’ll help run a little more smoothly.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Coy Gruenberg, 3, of Fort Dodge, attended the National Night Out event Tuesday evening in Snell-Crawford Park complete with cowboy hat and a costume police uniform shirt.

Porter said the change in leadership was helped partially because, while Doty stepped down as chief in July 2017, he didn’t fully retire until December, and remained on the department in the role of chief emeritus.

Porter said this was very helpful if he had any questions about issues that came up; for the last six months of Doty’s tenure with the department, he had a desk in Porter’s office, so all he had to do if he had a question was look over and ask.

What also helped was the fact that Porter and Husske have had a positive working relationship.

“Myself and Cory have worked together for a number of years, both on the street and investigations,” Porter said. “So this was just the next step for both of us, I think. And we’ve always had a good working relationship and shared a lot of the same vision. Overall, it’s been pretty seamless.”

One of those visions is having the Police Department get more involved in the community.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Police Cpt. Ryan Gruenberg watches as Blair Foy Jr., 5, of Fort Dodge, tosses a softball at the dunk tank during the National Night Out event in Snell-Crawford Park. Coy Gruenberg, 3, at right, patiently waits his turn.

Over the past few years, the Police Department has been hosting a number of public safety picnics across Fort Dodge, as well as taking part in National Night Out, which last year was its own event after splitting off from the Back to School Bash.

Husske said the department’s officers, especially the younger ones, have really embraced becoming a part of the community.

“You hear the term community-oriented policing,” Husske said. “It seems the new generation coming in really embraces that. In the actual sense of the term, they want to interact with the community in a meaningful and positive way with positive events.”

He said this year’s National Night Out was bigger than any previous one they’ve had.

When talking to new officers, he said many of them bring up community interaction and some have even mentioned that they’ve seen posts on the department’s official Facebook page about community events.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Katie Deal, of Fort Dodge, along with Spencer Lara, 3, and Max Lara, 6, pose with Cellphone Sally during the National Night Out event in Snell-Crawford Park Tuesday evening. Webster County dispatcher Cierra Janicek is inside the costume.

Porter said the plan for this year and beyond is to expand on those community events.

“We’re going to build on those, try to make those bigger and better,” he said. “Continue with the programs we have and make them better.”

That includes the department’s school resource officer program. Officers Joelyn Johnson and Cody Harris are the department’s school resources officers, and are assigned work with the Fort Dodge Community School District.

“It allows them (students) to see them (officers) in a positive, different light,” Porter said. “They’re able to interact and build those positive relationships.”

Husske added there are a number of other ways the department has grown with the community, including the Cop on a Rooftop fundraiser at Dunkin’ Donuts and the Polar Plunge, both of which raise money for Special Olympics of Iowa. The department also was actively involved when The Fireball Run Adventurally was in town this summer filming for the Amazon Prime series.

—Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Fort Dodge Police Chief Roger Porter, left, looks on as Officer Cody Harris fills out a report at the Webster County Law Enforcement Center. Porter was promoted to police chief last year, succeeding Kevin Doty, who retired.

“We’ve been a part of more events than usual,” Husske said. “The more events we’re doing, the happier our officers are.”

Porter agreed.

“Community events are a big thing,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to build that trust and those positive relationships with the public.”

Within the department itself, Porter said the department recently received approval from the Fort Dodge city Council to purchase 32 body cameras for its officers.

Porter added that the department is working on sending its officers to leadership training, both locally and with programs offered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s.

Husske added it’s important that the officers continue to work together with the community.

“Law enforcement is something we’re expected to do, but we’re members of the community first and we’re leaders,” he said. “I think that’s how the face of Fort Dodge law enforcement will change. We’re going to be seen more as that community leader role and as a service provider and then law enforcement as the secondary role as necessary.”

He added that working together as law enforcement and citizens will benefit everybody.

“If it’s done right, everybody’s a member of law enforcement,” he said. “We’re only 40 people in the community and we need that force multiplier of having good relationships with not only business owners and members of the community, but that we can rely on each other to help complete the task together.”