Police Chief position changes hands

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Police Chief George Morteo is retiring after 29 years of service with the Guttenberg Police Department. He is pictured with his granddaughter, Maree, during a surprise visit to her school on grandparent's day. (Photo submitted)

Derek Chambers, a 12-year veteran of the Guttenberg Police Department, has been hired as the new police chief. Front from left are Rheagan, Victoria, and Olivia; back row are Tabitha, Derek and Beau. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Police Chief George Morteo is retiring after 29 years of dedicated service with the Guttenberg Police Department. A retirement celebration will be held in honor of Chief Morteo and welcoming in of newly-hired Chief Derek Chambers on Friday, July 23, from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Guttenberg Municipal Building dining room. 

Morteo was born in Laredo, Texas, the son of Dagoberto and Laura Morteo. He is the father of five children, Jason, Danny, George, Luis and Christina. A camping trip brought Morteo to northeast Iowa. "My first wife, Cathy, was from Dubuque," said Morteo. "She had family living in Guttenberg. We came here to camp and I fell in love with the area. I told her, 'I am going to get a job there.' She said, 'You are out of your mind. There is nothing there for you.'"

Morteo aggressively sought out employment. "I took off work and applied for jobs from Dubuque to the Minnesota border," he shared. "I stopped at Lakeside on my way home and sat down at the bar next to Margo Heck, wife of then-mayor, Vernon Heck. We struck up a conversation, and she asked me what I was doing in the area.  I told her I was looking for a job. She said 'My husband, who is the mayor, is looking to hire a police officer.'  The late Dick Pregler was Chief at the time. They ended up hiring someone else, but called me three-months later when he quit."

"I was hired in 1980 as a patrolman," noted Chief Morteo. "In 1982 I was promoted to Sergeant and I resigned in 1985, because I needed more money to raise my family."

Morteo relocated his family to Chicago and worked for his brother, Louis. "My brother had a 'Bug Buster' business and I worked for him. I would eventually open my own franchise when I later returned to the area in 1994. I also purchased Minor's Bait Shop and had a golf cart rental business for a short time."

In 1996 Morteo was rehired as a patrolman and again promoted to Sergeant two years later. In 2001, he was hired as Police Chief. He earned his law enforcement credentials at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in Des Moines. "I kept my 'Bug Buster' business, because I like to vacation and own too many toys. An extra income always helps," he chuckled.

Morteo's first order of business was to re-establish respect for the police force. "When I first started here there was zero respect for the police department," he commented. "I quickly put a plan into action to stop the disrespect. The late Gerald 'Red' Block was a huge help with that. He was the kind of boss that helped out. And he didn't back down from anyone. Glen Witham was also a big help. He didn't accept disrespect from anyone either. We worked together and turned that around."

"Guttenberg is the greatest city in the world," he told The Press. "People complain about our youth, but they have nothing to complain about. Kids need something to do and when they don't have options they get into trouble. The skate park will be a nice addition to our community." 

Morteo is looking forward to retirement. "I bought a place in Port Aransas, Texas, where I will live in the winter, and live here in the summer. I plan on doing a lot of boating, fishing and relaxing on the Mississippi River. I would like to thank everyone. I came here with nothing and I am pretty happy with the end result," he said with a smile. 

Derek Chambers

Newly-hired Guttenberg Police Chief Derek Chambers was born in Manchester and grew up in Strawberry Point. He is a 2006 graduate of Starmont High School, and earned an associates degree in Police Science from Hawkeye Community College, Waterloo. His parents are Brad and Cindy Chambers. 

He and his wife, Tabitha, reside in Guttenberg with their four children, Olivia, Rheagan, Victoria and Beau. "I have lived in Guttenberg and been employed as a police officer for the past 12 and a half years," Chambers noted. "I like to fish and hunt – and may give boating a try." 

Chambers was hired to work night patrol. "The majority of the community probably doesn't know who I am, unless they are nocturnal, because I have always worked the night shift. Right now my greatest challenge will be adjusting to the day shift. My wife and I will both be working the day shift, so that will be nice." 

Chief Chambers is grateful for the community's support. "Guttenberg is a very supportive community," he said with gratitude. "There is always someone to help you out. The community is also very pro-law enforcement, which makes our job easier. I would like to serve the community as well as Chief Morteo has. I appreciate his style, and I will continue with it."

Both seasoned officers requested better communication from residents. "Communication has always been lacking," Chambers commented. "People ask us why we don't take care of a problem. We can't be everywhere at once. We need the help of the community just as much as they need us." 

Chief Morteo recognized Chambers' potential. "I was completing my internship rotation with the Clayton County Sheriff's office when Chief Morteo asked me if I was looking for a job," said Chambers. "He encouraged me to apply. He hired me the week I graduated from Hawkeye Tech. He also introduced me to my wife, Tabitha. She had worked dispatch for the police department until her position was eliminated due to budget cuts."  

Chief Chambers' grandfather was a police officer. "My grandpa was the lone police officer for Greeley," he said. "He had to use his own vehicle as a patrol car." 

Morteo left Chambers with some advice. He said, “Get out and meet the people of your community. Sitting at a desk all day is going to get old. If you spend too much time in the office it will drive you crazy.”

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