Hopkins Police Captain Reflects Back On Lengthy Career
Capt. Tony Hanlin was with Hopkins for 34 years before he retired at the end of 2011.
Police Capt. Tony Hanlin saw a lot of changes during a career that spanned more than three decades.
Hanlin joined the Hopkins Police Department right after Minnesota embraced new police standards and has watched both Hopkins and the law enforcement profession undergo momentous transformations.
Hanlin retired at the end of 2011. Before stepping down, he sat down with Hopkins Patch to reflect back on the changes he’s seen over the years.
Hopkins Patch: First of all, you’ve been with Hopkins for 34 years—
Capt. Tony Hanlin: Right, I started with the (police) reserves in January of 1977.
Hopkins Patch: What made you decide to start with the reserves, or start pursuing that path?
Hanlin: I’d already graduated, gotten my degree in law enforcement (from North Hennepin Community College), and I was working a part-time job. It was simply one of those twists-of-fate things. My part-time job at that time, which was one of several, was driving a school bus in the Hopkins school district. And as it so happens, my bus broke down on 11th Avenue South, down by Westbrooke, and a Hopkins police officer stopped behind my bus to assist with traffic. I started chatting while I was waiting for our repair guy to come. I told him that I had just graduated from law enforcement school. He said, “Well, we’re looking for reserve officers. Why don’t you try applying here?” And I did. That was the fall of ’76. (I) went through the testing that fall and then started in January of ’77. That’s how the whole thing started—by a bus breaking down. (Hanlin became a full police officer in 1981.)
Hopkins Patch: What was the department like back then? What was the biggest difference from today?
Hanlin: Well, it was simpler times, I guarantee you. Back in those days, I had no problem at all sitting in to give the dispatchers a break in what used to be the old dispatch center. We had a phone a lot less complicated than the one on my desk right now and about three radio channels. Now when I go into dispatch, I practically have a heart attack looking at the array of stuff in there. If I had to go in there under an emergency—and it would be an emergency if I went in there to help them out—it would be a pad of paper and a pen because what they do in there is simply amazing with the computer monitors and the multiple phone lines and everything else they have to keep an eye on. It was a lot different on that aspect of it. Everything, of course, was on paper back in those days. There was no digital dictation. There were no computers in squads (patrol cars). Everything was a lot simpler.
Hopkins Patch: Was the job approached the same way? I mean, now you hear a lot about community policing and JCPP (Joint Community Police Partnership). Was that big back in those days?
Hanlin: Well, there was no such thing as the JCPP back then at all. And the community-oriented policing—and all those current buzzwords that started in the mid-’90s or so—those had not come in yet. When I started, I was kind of the newest of the new breed. The one generation was basically the Korean War vet guys. I had a number of those, that age bracket, that were working that were getting to their point where they were a few years away from their retirement. And then you had the Vietnam vets group, and I was kind of the next breed of the actual people who went to college specifically to be in law enforcement.
Hopkins Patch: What was the difference in the generations that arose from that?
Hanlin: Of course, the guys that had been here forever, they were used to doing things really old school. Just as an example, I was interested in firearms early on. And all the firearms training back in those days, you’d stand in one spot on a range and you’d do your qualification shooting basically one-handed on set targets. Everything was very stationary. Like I said, I was interested so I got involved in the firearms instruction stuff. And one of the first things that I started having us do is move around—having the targets move, having us move—because standing in one spot with a stationary target doesn’t cut it nowadays. Quite honestly, it never did. A lot of our training was a lot of classroom (instruction)—book-type learning. You’d go into a meeting room, and you’d get a lecture. And of course, I got hired the same year that they established the POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Board.
Hopkins Patch: So there was no certification for officers?
Hanlin: There was no licensing. That was a new era, basically, where it kind of professionalized law enforcement in the State of Minnesota. And we were one of the first states to actually do that. I think that Minnesota, and I’d say the Upper Midwest in general, has always been at the forefront of training for police officers. I think that’s one thing that we can be very proud of in this department, and the citizens of Hopkins can be very proud of. They have a very well trained police department. The POST Board requires 48 credits of continuing education units every three years. Typically, our guys will have very close to double that.
Hopkins Patch: What was the town of Hopkins like back then? Was it quieter? (Did it) have crime but different crime? Was it rowdy?
Hanlin: “Rowdy” might be a good term. We used to have a ton of bars in town. In fact, I remember one of the little factoids from when I was in college. One of the instructors—as a little book-learning thing—asked the class which town in Hennepin County did they think had the highest per capita amount of assaults and disorderly conduct at that time. And it was Hopkins. Back in those days, in the mid-’70s, we had a fair grouping of bars downtown. A lot of them attracted motorcycle gang-type people. They’d come into town, and a lot of them were there to have a real, real, real good time. Unfortunately, that real good time would step over the line. So we used to have lots of interesting calls back in those days.
Hopkins Patch: Do you remember your first call at all?
Hanlin: Oh, gosh. I really can’t. I remember my first serious call. My very first serious call involved a guy at the time who was, in fact, the president of one of the local motorcycle gangs. He and a—I think it was a softball player—one summer got into a verbal altercation at the location that is now Mainstreet Tavern or Mainstreet Bar and Grill. I can’t remember if it was still the 908 Bullpen. That bar has gone through several changes They got into a verbal shoving match inside the bar over some girl. The bouncers told them to take it outside. What we were told is that the motorcycle guy was willing to let it go, but the softball player had a little bit more juice in him. And he picked the wrong fight. As is typical with a lot of these motorcycle gang guys, (the gang president) pulled out a knife and laced open the guy’s throat from one side to the other. The guy ended up at Methodist ER with a lot of blood loss and lived through it. That was probably my first serious call. I can remember that one. That was probably ’83, ’84.
Hopkins Patch: Have you ever had to use your weapon during your career?
Hanlin: Actually fire it?
Hopkins Patch: Actually fire it.
Hanlin: Other than put down an injured animal, no, I have not. In Hopkins, during my career here, I think I can recall only twice, maybe three times, when someone has fired a gun at something other than an animal. We’ve never shot anybody, actually, during that time—and, knock on wood, may it never happen. We’ve never had anybody shot either.
Hopkins Patch: There’s never been an officer-involved shooting?
Hanlin: We’ve never had an officer actually shoot at somebody and hit somebody. In fact, we haven’t had anybody actually shoot at anybody for about 30 years. Now, we did have somebody (fire at officers)—although it was somewhat of a blind shot—in about 1984, ’85 or so. We had a guy holed up in an apartment at the West Side Apartments. He shot through the wall when he thought that there were police officers out in the hallway—which was the fact. No one was hit or anything.
Hopkins Patch: Great track record.
Hanlin: We want to keep that going. We want to keep that going, I guarantee you.
Hopkins Patch: What is your favorite part of the job that you’ve enjoyed the most?
Hanlin: Quite honestly, James, meeting all the people. Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to meet just some incredible people—some of them very colorful, some of them not to meet in a dark alley. You know, that’s why I got into the business, quite honestly. I’m kind of a people person. I enjoy being out and about. I can guarantee you I did not get into this business to sit behind a desk all day long—looking at a computer or doing reports or looking at reports, which is what I’ve been doing the last four-and-a-half years. I enjoy being out and about, interacting with people. I believe if you have good people skills, you have the opportunity to talk somebody down without ever having to use chemical spray or a baton—or nowadays, of course, we have the Tasers. It’s one of those things, it’s not necessarily something you can go to a class and learn how to have people skills. It’s something that we look for when we hire somebody.
Hopkins Patch: I was amazed last night when they listed all your duties. You’ve had a lot of duties. What has been your favorite one?
Hanlin: I really enjoyed when I was an actual, what we call, an operator on the SWAT Team. I was a sniper on the SWAT Team. Once again, I’ve been interested in firearms for most of my life. (And) just training people. I really enjoy training people. For a while, I was the FTO supervisor (field training officer), as well as the FTO years ago. I was one of several instructors teaching an FTO instructor class a number of years ago, back in the ’90s. Anytime I can impart whatever I may have learned to somebody else, that to me is very satisfying.
Hopkins Patch: The FBI Academy you attended, what did that do for you as a professional?
Hanlin: First of all, I should tell you the three months I spent at the FBI Academy was probably one of the best three months in my law enforcement career. It’s basically (like) you’re going to college. You meet some just incredible people. I still keep in touch with a number of them. We had people from Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada, Mexico, South America—every continent, basically. You really get exposed to a lot of different kinds of police work.
Hopkins Patch: If you could look back to your younger self who’s just coming onto the force and giver yourself one piece of advice, what would that be?
Hanlin: Maybe to have more patience at times. It’s easy to get impatient when things aren’t going the way that you want it.
Hopkins Patch: You strike me as a really patient guy.
Hanlin: And I’ve worked on that. I’ve worked on that. I guess back in my first couple years—and this is typical probably of most young officers. You’re out there, ready to go. You look forward to this for your career. You’ve gone to school for two or four years. And you’re anxious to get out there and make an impact. And sometimes that eagerness, that zeal, needs to be tempered some. And that takes time, just like with any job probably. I worked on my patience, and I’ve tried to be as accommodating and open to other people’s thoughts and ideas as much as possible. Hopefully, I have met that objective.
Hopkins Patch: The desk gets a bad rep. What’s the biggest thing people should know about being an administrative police officer?
Hanlin: You can plan your day, but don’t plan on your day being as you planned it—if that makes any sense. The chief will agree with me on this I’m sure. I’ve talked with my partners in other departments that are in my position—basically the No. 2 guy, whether their position be called deputy chief or captain or whatever. We all have exchanged the same philosophy or thoughts: You can start with your (plan) and before you know it, half the day is gone and all you’ve done is put out fires. There’s this phone call. Someone comes in your office for that. The chief suddenly got something dumped on him, and he’s going to dump that on you. [laughing] If you’re lucky, you can dump it on a sergeant possibly—not always, though. And of course when the chief is out of the office, the city manager or assistant city manager is going to be calling you directly. I’ve told people this—somewhat tongue in cheek, but with some seriousness: “The fun part of my career kind of ended in July of 2007 when I got promoted to captain. However, the real challenging part probably really started at that point.” I found it easy and fun to be out and about, dealing with the people, arresting people, solving problems out there, because that’s what you’ve had a lot of training throughout your career to do. I had somewhat of an advantage because I’d been a sergeant for 20 years prior to being promoted to captain. So for me, it wasn’t as sharp of a curve. I was able to slide into it a little bit easier, although it still was very eye-opening when I realized every day things change very, very rapidly on you.
Hopkins Patch: You talked about the various generations of officers. What characterizes this latest generation of officers coming out of school?
Hanlin: As one would expect, they’re brought up on computers, and they are very accustomed to working with computers and having them available to them and using them to do their jobs. At times, it’s possible that they may be a little bit reliant on them. I think that’s natural, and I think you could go to almost any job anywhere and you’ll have people my age probably saying that about the younger workers in their workforce also. I’ve had to kind of assimilate to the computer age so to speak. I can revert very easily back to just going out and doing a job without ever touching a computer probably. It used to be where if I needed to have a check done on somebody, I’d pick up a radio mic and call a dispatcher and ask them to run a check on James Warden. Now they’ve got that keyboard down and they’re checking stuff like crazy and looking a suspect up on Facebook or something. In that respect, quite honestly the technology today is such a benefit to our officers. It’s not quite to the level of CSI, unfortunately. A lot of people think we are like CSI, which is definitely not the case. We cannot get those things back and checked in 45 minutes to an hour. But we’ve had great assistance with the county Sheriff’s Office and the state BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) in doing lab work for us. People in this state I don’t think realize how fortunate they are to have the technology and the cooperation between agencies that we have.
Hopkins Patch: What’s the plan for after you retire? What are you looking forward to doing?
Hanlin: The first thing is ripping up a bunch of ceramic tile and carpeting in my house and putting down some wood flooring. So if anybody wants to volunteer help out with that, come on over. [laughing] I’m not looking to right away get a part-time job or anything like that. I have a number of projects at home that I’ve been slated to do. This last year-and-a-half has been a very busy time for me—working with the new chief. Chief (Mike) Reynolds has done a great job here.
Hopkins Patch: I guess you had to acclimate him, help get him onboarded?
Hanlin: Correct. We work very well together. I think we’re a good team for this year-and-a-half. I’m very appreciative of his confidence in me to lead him around the department and everything else. You know, when you get a new chief—and Chief Reynolds is my fourth one—there’s always a little bit of apprehension about is it going to be a good fit or not. I really was not looking forward to my last year-and-a-half being her and having to be stressed every time I came to work, and that was not the case at all. It was a good fit, I think.
Hopkins Patch: Well, sir, thank you so much for your time.