When Chief Richard Trende retires early next month, he will have been a member of the Hudson Police Department for almost 34 years. It is where he began his career as a police officer and where he will complete it on May 5.
Trende was hired at HPD in July 1972, just after finishing college at Southwest State in Marshall, Minn. Trende grew up in Silver Bay, Minn., and his interest in police work took root in high school when he became acquainted with an officer who was a friend of his father. "He was very approachable. I met some other officers in college and they impressed me as well. I was intrigued by how they did their jobs and yet stayed accessible to people. I knew that's what I wanted to do," said Trende.
Trende and his wife, Char, married immediately after college graduation so he says he was grateful to find the job in Hudson.
After training, he became a patrol officer with HPD which, at the time, included 10 officers. He said he became more keenly aware of the dangers of the job on his first day shift in 1972.
"Chief Smith of Somerset was shot and wounded on my first day. And Mike Tracey, a Blooming Prairie, Minn., officer I had roomed with during training was murdered shortly after we both got started, so I got it right out of the blocks. But it isn't something you dwell on. You can't. There are times when it is very dangerous for officers, but it is part of the job."
Trende said he has faced several dangerous situations in his 34 years but as stressful as those incidents are, something in his training and experience kicks in when he needs it most. "Your vision and your mind come into this narrow, sharp focus that keeps you from panicking and keeps you on track. You just do what you have to. You don't second guess yourself. Everything you have learned and that you know kicks in to get you through it. It's afterward that you deal with the stress of it all."
Trende recalled an incident in the early 1980s as a patrol officer when he pulled over a couple in their car. The man acted suspicious as Trende ran a check on him and the car through the teletype system used at the time. It was slow and took some time before he was notified by radio that the couple were considered armed and dangerous fugitives and that back-up was on the way. "When we searched them, the wife had a loaded pistol in her purse and the man had a loaded gun under his seat. When he was booked, he told them that he was considering shooting me to get away. It turned out OK, but in evaluating it, I could have done some things differently. But that's how you learn so you are ready for the next time."
Trende was a patrol officer through the difficult years when Wisconsin had a drinking age of 18 while Minnesota was still 21. He recalled the atmosphere in downtown Hudson as chaotic and sometimes dangerous. In 1972, the year he became a police officer, Hudson led the nation in assaults on officers per capita. It was exciting as a young, new officer but a difficult challenge as well.
He recalled the last day before the drinking age changed in Minnesota. "It was unbelievable. At one end of the street we were dealing with three cars on fire. At the other end, windows were being broken out of businesses. As officers were trying to break up a fight and make arrests, they were surrounded by a crowd that was pressing in. Luckily there were some local people who pushed their way into the group and helped hold the people back. We also had the help of a lot of reserve officers in those days. We couldn't have done it without them."
Communication between officers and dispatchers was primitive by today's standards and made it difficult for the officers patrolling the bars downtown. In the earliest days of his career on foot patrol, the only way an officer knew to call into the department was by a flashing light that was strung across Second Street.
Up the ladder
Throughout his career, Trende has enjoyed working with young people and as an officer was a regular at Hudson schools, active with safety patrol members and held regular bike safety clinics with fellow officers.
In 1989 he was promoted to sergeant and was eventually assigned as the department's juvenile investigator. His work with juvenile cases was most difficult when it involved abuse or the death of very young children.
"But for the most part, working with kids accounted for some of the most enjoyable times I've had as a police officer. One of the greatest honors I received was in 1991 when the seniors at Hudson High School named me 'Citizen of the Year.' It was especially meaningful coming from them."
Trende said he has always approached his job by "being the best officer I could," but it was never more important than when he was working with young people. "These kids need support and trust from the adults around them. We owe them that. And when they do bad things, we need to be professional. They are not the enemy, and it is when they are young and when they are in trouble that we can reach them and help them try and turn things around."
Trende's growth as an officer was recognized in 1993 when he was promoted to chief of police. He admits to being apprehensive about whether he was ready to assume the No. 1 spot in the department. "I wasn't even sure it was what I wanted, but I think a little self doubt is part of any big change like that, and it was worked out and I hope I have done a good job for this community."
As chief, Trende said he has tried to instill a strong code of ethics in his officers and he believes he has been successful in that. "This department has very good officers. The people who get into this profession are here primarily because they want to help people. I have worked to help keep that ideal alive in this department."
His biggest challenge as chief and for the department as a whole has come in the last three years with the murders of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison and the three-year investigation that followed.
Although the department and the court believe they have found the killer in the late Fr. Ryan Erickson, the fallout from the case still affects everyone in the department from the chief on down.
"That case continues to affect the department. In terms of the time we expended on it, the resources devoted to it and the emotional toll it took on everyone in the department, it will be a while before we get over this. In some ways we never will. But I am proud of what we did and so glad we could come up with some explanation for the families."
Although Trende always said publicly that the case would be solved, he admits now that there was always the possibility that it wouldn't be. "I believed if we found the right break, we could solve it, but there was no guarantee that we would. There are lots of cases that go unsolved, and this easily could have been one of them."
Trende said while he knows there are those in the community who may still dispute the outcome of the investigation, he believes the majority of the community thinks the department conducted a good investigation and acted ethically.
"I know how much work went into every part of the investigation. We sought assistance from anywhere we thought it would help. We worked hard to make sure that every explanation was explored and that everyone was heard. Did we make some mistakes? Probably. But we followed where the information took us. The worst thing we could have done was to pull back because of where the investigation took us. And what we held back proved to be the key that ultimately solved the case. It was that right break. That case will always be the hardest for me, but there is great satisfaction in seeing it concluded."
Still things to do
Trende said he hopes to spend more time with his family, which includes his two daughters, Andrea Werk and Beth Murphy, and son Scott, once he's retired. He has two grandchildren, Kayla Murphy, 3, and Brayden Werk, 6 months. While wife Char Trende will continue working as a paralegal for the Washington County, Minn., County Attorney's office, she will also oversee a long list of projects around the house for her retired husband.
He also says he will remain active with his church, Bethel Lutheran, and may, after some down time, look into law enforcement education as a new career option. Whatever he does, he and Char intend to stay living in Hudson. "This is home."
Trende said his decision to leave his job wasn't easy, but he felt the time was right. He leaves the department proud of the officers under his command and confident that they will continue to develop as professionals in service to the people of Hudson.
He reflected on something he heard another retiring police chief say about his profession. "You have got to have heart to do this job. The people we encounter, no matter what they have done or what they need from us, are still human beings who make mistakes. My life is about my God, my family and the people I've served. Everything else just falls into place."
Trende will be honored at a retirement party May 12 at the Hudson Golf Club. Tickets are $25. To attend, contact Lt. Paul Larson at HPD, (715) 386-4771.