ATLANTIC — Dave Erickson knew he wanted to be a police officer all the way back in elementary school, all because of a bus driver.
One of the drivers was a police officer and a school bus driver, and often drove the bus route in his police uniform.
The officer was the late Larry Linn, and he made quite an impression on Erickson. There was something about how he presented himself, about how he wore his uniform while driving the bus.
“He was someone I wanted to be,” Erickson said.
That impression stuck with Erickson, it made him want to be in law enforcement even if the road he took to get to get there wasn’t exactly a direct route.
Erickson said early on, he worked as a janitor in Griswold, and then worked at the Atlantic Bottling Company. He wanted to go into the Marines, but said a life change pulled him in a different direction.
He started on the production line and ended up in route sales for the Atlantic Bottling Company, then another life change lead him to joining the Marine Corps, “and that was my college,” he said.
He was just carrying on tradition: his family had a history of military service.
“My grandpa was a combat medic in World War I,” he said, “and my Dad served in Korea, also as a combat medic.”
His grandfather got out of the service with the rank of Private, while his father was a Corporal E4.
In the military, he had hopes of going in as an MP, a military policeman, but there was a nine month wait. “I ended up in military intelligence, attached to a sniper unit,” he said.
He served during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, and was promoted in Kuwait, picking up the rank of Sergeant.
“I had continued the family service,” he said, adding that in his family, everyone had served. He was proud that he was not only able to carry on that service, but to have achieved an even higher rank than his father or grandfather, coming out as a Sergeant E5.
Then, after his time in the military was up, he went back to work for Atlantic Bottling, and worked all the way up to plant manager in the Creston division before it was time to make a change again.
He was serving on the police reserves when an opening came up. Donald Lappe who had been a police officer, went to work in the Cass County Sheriff’s office, and Erickson was able to move up after just three or four months as a reserve.
“I made patrolman on Jan. 2, 1997,” he said.
He’s been an officer now for 23 years. Including himself, the Atlantic department has 12 officers, two secretaries and about eight reserves.
He’d tell young people today to get a good education, if they wanted to work in law enforcement, but he also said military service did a good job of preparing someone, “It teaches leadership, loyalty,” and more he said, “I am who I am because of some of the people I’ve met and the training I had.”
His desire to serve extends beyond the day to day job of keeping the peace.
For Erickson, the best part of the job is working with kids. “The little kids, they are our future,” he said.
An incident after he had only been working for the police department for about a year and a half made him think about how kids saw officers — often their only interaction was when something bad happened.
It’s important to him that the kids see police officers in a positive light, he said, and he has worked to keep up that positive relation.
“I can’t do it by myself,” he said, “But I have an awesome department,” and they all do their part to help.
For example, Lieutenant Devin Hogue over sees the different kids programs the department holds during the year, and volunteered as a Scrooge Candidate this year. He was busy helping collect the food donations students brought in, and helped unload a large amount of donations at City Hall, when the Atlantic Food Pantry had no room to hold more.
Among the student volunteers helping carry boxes was a young man, Erickson said, that said sometime he’d like to be a police officer. Erickson asked him if he’d like to ride in the police car, and probably made the young man’s day. “He said it was awesome,” Erickson said.
Giving kids a positive goal, like collecting the food to help others in need, is fun for the kids, and they get something out of it — a chance to give the Police Chief a pie in the face. A special assembly is held at the elementary school, and students are selected to throw the pies.
This year, instead of wearing a plastic bag to stay clean, Erickson said he was just “going to let it splatter. We had another awesome year (with the food drive),” he said. He’s taken a pie in the face two years in a row now, and looks forward to it, because of how excited the kids get. Winning classes also get to go to see a movie at the theater, and get free popcorn and a drink.
The department also takes kids to the zoo, and camping, and at this time of year, the department has Christmas Family Dreams and Shop with a Cop, programs that help out members of the community and build positive relationships.
In Christmas Family Dreams, families are taken shopping on a Saturday, and also get food for the holiday. In Shop with a Cop, police officers and reserves — along with many others in law enforcement, from Sheriff’s deputies to State Troopers, DCI, DNR officers and more — come out to go shopping, one on one, with kids. It could be overwhelming, but they’ve figured out how to work it all out, and with the support of the community are able to make Christmas a little brighter for kids and their families.
“We wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of the good citizens of Cass County,” he said, adding the community was “so giving, it’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
This year he is also helping to organize a long time tradition, the Red Kettle Campaign for Salvation Army. He knew he wouldn’t be able to find volunteers to fill all the slots for bell ringers for Fareway and Wal-Mart, so he reached out to area churches, and five churches have stepped up to take weekends, to pick up the kettles and ring bells. Most of the funds raised — about 90 percent — stay in Cass County.
The positive message that’s so important to Erickson must be getting through, as kids collected thousands of food items in the food drive, and at least one area boy has the same dream as Erickson, to be a police officer.
Erickson appreciates the support and help of that young man, Myles Jones, better known as Officer Myles.
“He organized a food drive on his own in CAM, he delivered those cans (Tuesday). That kid is remarkable,” he said.
“We made him an honorary police officer,” Erickson said, adding he hoped Officer Myles would be able to be on hand for other projects in the future. “He’s got a good heart.”