by Mike Knaak
When Dwight Pfannenstein was growing up in St. Joseph, most of the town’s 2,500 residents in the 1980s knew each other.
Now, as the city’s new police chief, Pfannenstein, 43, is responsible for a much larger city, with almost 7,000 residents, with more diversity and newcomers than during his childhood.
“When I grew up, the population was a lot smaller and you knew more people,” Pfannenstein said. “The population has grown because people have chosen St. Joseph because it’s a beautiful place to live.”
When former Chief Joel Klein recently resigned, the City Council offered the job to Pfannenstein on June 18. A police department sergeant, he had been serving as interim chief while Klein was suspended during an investigation into his conduct.
Pfannenstein and his brother, Kyle, are the sons of Cyril and Janet Pfannenstein, longtime area residents who are related to the Pfannensteins who founded and still operate the St. Joseph Meat Market. He attended the St. Joseph Lab School, graduated from Cathedral High School and later graduated from Willmar Community College with an associate’s degree and St. Cloud State University with a bachelor’s degree.
In 2000, Pfannenstein became a patrol officer in Albany. The Albany chief, Pete Jansky, became the St. Joseph police chief and hired Pfannenstein in 2002. In 2007, Pfannenstein was promoted to sergeant.
During his first month as chief, Pfannenstein says he’s getting reacquainted with administration duties such as budgets, replacing squad cars and maintenance. He credits his smooth transition to chief Jansky who he says “showed me the ropes” before he retired.
At the top of Pfannenstein’s to-do list is hiring a patrol officer to bring the department back to nine full-time officers. The city’s personnel committee accepted applications until July 23 and Pfannenstein said the committee plans to select the top five applicants for interviews on July 31.
Next on the agenda…college students return for fall semester.
Pfannentein plans to meet with students who live off campus to have a conversation about city ordinances and behavior.
“We’re going to look at opening up relations with the college in the fall,” he said. “We’ve really worked on trying to bridge the gap between residents and students. We’ve stepped up enforcement the last few years including East Ash (Street).
“We want college to be a fun and cooperative year. We want to get along as best as we can. I’ve been part of off-campus housing meetings to explain city ordinances,” he said.
“(But) for some reason that message gets forgotten. I’d like to hit home that point and get them involved with a questions-and-answer session, have a conversation. It’s getting students to understand even though this is a small town, we still have the same laws and ordinances just on a small(er) scale.”
Pfannenstein does not see the recent annexation agreement as a reason to add another officer at this time.
“We did check in the areas where we’re looking to take in and there were about 95 residents. That’s not a lot of extra households.” he said. “The area is more geared toward commercial. The calls are mostly car accidents, thefts and burglaries.”
The chief’s agenda includes keeping the department up to date on training and technology and getting it all done within budget.
Longer term, the police department, along with all city departments has been tasked with envisioning what their teams will look like in five or 10 years. He’ll be thinking about how growth, such as annexation, will affect resources and department organization.
In the meantime, Pfannenstein says “Our police department will continue to operate with an open-door policy. We like our officers to be in the public as much as possible.”