Kautman reflects on 25 years in law enforcement

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National Police Week: May 12-18, 2019

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

National Police Week has been held each year around mid-May since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day. The period serves not only as a time to honor those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, but to recognize all members of law enforcement who continue to serve and protect their communities day in and day out.

Born and raised in McGregor, Mark Kautman always enjoyed spending time outdoors, staying active and working as part of a team. However, it wasn’t until a college friend suggested he apply for a reserve police officer position that he seriously considered utilizing those interests in a career.

Bob Hamann was the chief in McGregor then, in the mid-1990s, Kautman recalled. At the small department, he began to learn the ins and outs of the profession.

“Those first few years afforded me the opportunity to educate myself and train in all aspects,” he said.

In 1998-1999, he started at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, serving as a patrol and K-9 officer before focusing on narcotics and investigation. Today, he continues to work as one of the department’s investigators.

“I enjoyed doing that,” Kautman said, “because it was a proactive approach to law enforcement. It’s stuck with me.”

At that time, meth labs were big, and he spent much of his time investigating the operations and cleaning them up. They’re less frequent now, Kautman said, as drug dealers and users instead opt for imported meth, which is cheaper and negates the risk of making the addictive substance.

Drugs continue to remain a serious aspect of his job, but Kautman is glad the position allows him to fight crime on a variety of levels.

“I have the opportunity to do different things every day. It’s not the same people or the same type of incident,” Kautman explained. “It could be drugs, a burglary or a high-speed chase. It’s an exciting job—it’s not monotonous.”

In his years of police work, Kautman said the criminals—and their traits—haven’t changed much. But how they communicate, and how law enforcement personnel have to track and investigate them, certainly has. That’s all because of technology.

“There used to be a lot of face-to-face. Now, there’s social media—everything’s on a cellphone, Snapchat or Facebook,” he said. “People make drug deals, do sex trafficking, all online.”

Technology has also impacted how police officers’ actions are viewed—literally. Members of the public increasingly record interactions with officers, and officers themselves have started wearing body cameras. Kautman feels the latter is a good thing, though.

“The cameras help explain the whole story,” he said.

Because of this increased attention, Kautman said officers’ training now focuses a bit more on public relations. It’s about finding a courteous way to deal with the public, he noted, while also maintaining authority: “You want to find a happy medium.”

A lack of respect from the public can be disheartening, Kautman admitted. Watching families torn apart by drugs, or coming upon life-altering car accidents, can also be draining. But he still feels law enforcement is a good, fulfilling career path.

He gets away from the bad by volunteering and coaching—just another way to give back to the community he serves. Kautman relies on his co-workers, as well.

“They’re there every day,” he said. “I know they’ll be there when I’m doing some dangerous stuff.”

Kautman’s fellow officers feel highly about him too. Earlier this year, the Clayton County Law Enforcement Association recognized him as the county’s officer of the year. The award takes into account performance and casework.

“It’s a great honor to have, from the peers you work with,” Kautman reflected, especially at this point in his career.

“So far,” he said, “it’s been a great 25 years of excitement and learning.”

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