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From barn to badge

Alec Fjelstul, the NLPD’s newest and youngest officer
Officer Alec Fjelstul, Badge 523 of the North Liberty Police Department gives a badge sticker to Emmett Erenberger, 3, of North Liberty on Halloween, Wednesday, Oct 31. Fjelstul is the youngest and newest member of the city’s growing police department, and Oct. 31 marked both his 22nd birthday as well as his second-to-last day of field training before beginning night shift solo. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– A fresh face has joined the ranks of North Liberty’s finest. And if you ask him, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
“I love it here,” Alec Fjelstul affirmed of his new role.
At 22 years old, Officer Fjelstul, Badge 523, is the newest and youngest member of the growing North Liberty Police Department (NLPD), having completed his field training Thursday, Nov. 1.
“It’s gonna be a long career here, and I know there’s plenty of opportunity for advancement, which made this job so attractive to me,” he said. “Whether it’s K-9 drug task force, detective– there’s just so much to do here and wasn’t really offered back in my hometown.”

A barnyard upbringing

A Decorah native, Fjelstul grew up on a dairy farm and credits those rigorous agricultural roots for developing his character.
“I think growing up on a farm has really has helped me,” he cited. “I worked long hours: 5 a.m. until sometimes 11 o’clock at night. We were always super busy, and it really gave me a good work ethic.”
At Decorah High School, Fjelstul was captain of the wrestling team and made it to the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament. He credits the demanding sport for helping prepare him for his career. With early aspirations of becoming a veterinarian, it was a first-hand preview of police duty that cemented his interest in law enforcement.
“Once I started doing ride-alongs, it got me hooked,” he recalled. “I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Straight out of high school, Fjelstul enrolled at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, majoring in criminal justice and becoming a student ambassador. Halfway through, he was hired at the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office as a transport and correctional officer, working there for about a year and a half. This meant a grueling, hour-long commute for the full-time gig, while simultaneously studying full time.
“I knew I didn’t want to be in a jail my whole life. It was definitely something that I’m glad that I did. It teaches you how to deal with… not the best people all the time,” he noted. “But I knew I wanted to get out on the road and work as a police officer.”
While studying at Kirkwood, Fjelstul also worked for Always Moving Forward, a moving company in North Liberty, which better acquainted him with the growing community. Once the NLPD had an opening for a new officer, the choice was obvious.

Trained to serve

Fjelstul joined the NLPD in March and graduated from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in August. During his 16 weeks in the academy, Fjelstul stayed on the Camp Dodge military base in Johnston.
“It was pretty hardcore training,” he recalled. “It’s a physically-demanding academy, but I met a lot of people my age, and older than me. You really bond with a lot of them.”
The young trainee had 28 fellow students in his class, and now knows officers all over the State of Iowa.
Fjelstul spent the last several months in North Liberty working the night shift, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., primarily under the guidance of Officer Casey Wood, overseen by Sgt. Chris Shine.
“My field training officers are great,” he insisted. “Starting out at such a young age, they’ve really shown how I can improve as an officer throughout my career here.”
In spite of his early-to-rise upbringing, Fjestul has embraced his current after-hours role.
“I love working nights,” he affirmed. “For a younger guy, there’s a lot more interesting calls.” This entails high-stress, adrenaline-inducing situations that put his training and quick decision making to the test. The youthful Fjelstul connects with North Liberty’s youthful demographic, and allows the department to more closely reflect the city’s population.
“If there’s high-schoolers having issues, I can talk to them,” he said. “And I’m not much older than they are, so I feel that I’ve been able to relate to younger people a lot more.”
Officer Fjelstul’s routine consists of patrolling the city, responding to calls, following up on dayshift work and filing plenty of reports.
“There’s a lot of paperwork in this job, but I don’t mind it. It’s a mentally and physically demanding job, and I’m glad that I got in this field,” he said. “Every day that I go to work, I look forward to going to work, which is something that my dad told me growing up: You don’t want a job just because you’re gonna make a lot of money; you want a job that you’re gonna wanna look forward to every single day.”
The job does, however, offer its share of levity. The young officer spent Halloween– which happened to be both his 22nd birthday as well as his second-to-last day of field training– greeting trick-or-treaters from the steps of the NLPD station with fellow police. Fjelstul cited this community interaction as one of the highlights of his job.
“I remember when I was little, seeing a police officer and thinking he was so cool, and now when kids see me, and I hand out stickers and see smiles on their faces, it’s pretty awesome,” he remarked. “It gives me a great feeling.”
Currently, Fjelstul resides in Cedar Rapids while his girlfriend studies at Coe College. As she plans to advance to the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, the officer says it shouldn’t be long before they move to North Liberty area. 
“I really like this town, and I think I can see myself in this area for probably the remainder of my life,” he said.

Part of a growing team

“We were fortunate that the timing worked to get Officer Fjelstul on board,” noted NLPD Chief Diane Venenga. “Even though he is young, it feels like he has been with us for a long time. His level of maturity fits in nicely with this team.” The chief said her department certainly benefits from eager, young officers joining its ranks.
“Their enthusiasm keeps me and other members energized,” she added. “Plus, we are always in a training-and-improving mode.”
Fjelstul joins at a critical time for the department, with a highly-anticipated new police facility to be built for the growing team next year. Currently, the NLPD has 21 sworn officers and two records staff, and plans to hire another officer in early 2019, with testing for potential recruits having taken place last weekend.
Chief Venenga anticipates the department will hire, at a minimum, one additional officer per year with council approval, a rate maintained for the last 10 years. From planning and selection to starting solo patrol, the entire process of bringing one officer onto the team takes about eight months.
“This is not only beneficial for the city, but also creates a great internal operational plan for our organization,” she explained. “We take our time in the application, selection and training process to make sure our new hires have the best chance at succeeding as NLPD officers.”
While the department is currently focused on the patrol division, Vegenga anticipates building its specialty positions in the wake of a larger facility. These include investigation, community outreach, evidence/forensic lab and a cybercrimes unit, as the needs evolve for the growing city.