Land of 10,000 Stories: Minnesota police chief lights up social media

8:49 PM, May 5, 2013   |    comments
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KENYON, Minn. - Police officers are taught to drive with both hands on the wheel. It's a tough task for Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander, when one hand is so busy waving.

Waving and smiling are part of Sjolander's policing philosophy. "I really think it's a lot easier to deal with our public when you take down some of those 'I'm the authoritative officer' barriers," he says.

Now through Facebook Sjolander's virtual version a wave and a smile are crisscrossing the country.

Several times a week for the past four years, the chief has posted his heartfelt thoughts on the police department's Facebook page.  He ever imagined how popular his musings would become.

"Wash the dishes, do some laundry, clean your room, walk the dog," he wrote in a message aimed at the youth of Kenyon. "Pull your pants up. Nobody wants to see my underwear and I don't want to see yours."

That post alone has been viewed more than 220,000 times -- not bad considering fewer than 2000 people live in Kenyon.

"Some of my cousins back home in Idaho they've sent it out now," says Colleen Seiter, who has shared Sjolander's post with friends across the country. "There's no telling where it's at," she smiles, "and he's ours."

Sjolander's homespun approach to law enforcement has drawn comparison to Andy Taylor, the fictitious sheriff of Mayberry in the Andy Griffith TV show.

In one of his posts he explained why he prefers not to write tickets to traffic violators. "Not everyone gets a break, but I feel having the money to buy diapers, school lunches, or gas for your car so you can get to work is a way better use of your money than court costs and a fine."

Sjolander says many of his law enforcement beliefs stem from his childhood. "In school when I was a kid, I was the smelly kid with the old clothes. I was the kid with the home haircut," he says.

At the age of 13 Lee was sent to a foster home after years of substance abuse by his mother - and no father in the picture at all. "You can take your life experiences and if they were bad, use them to teach other people," he says.

Last winter when a homeless man from Chicago was sleeping in a car in Kenyon, Sjolander took to Facebook to write about him. "We have a gentleman in need of a place to stay for a while," he wrote.

Someone stepped forward alright - the chief himself. "I went to Lee's house," says Darrell Cody, still sounding slightly surprised, months later. For a month Cody lived with the police chief, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter.

Sjolander shared that experience on Facebook as well. "According to Forbes you can't be a great leader without trust. I don't think I'm a great leader, but I think I'm a guy who knows a lot of us are a couple paychecks away from being like my house guest," he wrote in a post.

Then Sjolander helped his house guest find an apartment, despite Cody's initial reluctance to accept help. "I sure as hell wasn't going to mess with the chief of police," he laughs.

In another post Sjolander put out a plea for a bed and furniture. "Everything I have in here was given to me by people in Kenyon," Cody said from the living room of his apartment after his shift at the local factory where he now works.

Sjolander would appreciate the words he speaks next. "I know one thing. I can't wait to help someone."

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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