Amicus lector
In Worthing, 24 years is a long, long time

Worthing is looking for a new police chief after making a final vote last night to fire Roger Knutson.

Knutson’s tenure in the Lincoln County town of 887 stretches back 24 years.

That’s a long time. Especially long if you consider the position, but we’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s try an imagine what Worthing City Hall felt like last night.

The city council voted to recommend termination for Knutson on Dec. 10. They set last night’s meeting for public comment, and there was no shortage of that. Night beat reporter Beth Wischmeyer said well over 60 people were at the meeting to address the council.

One resident had a petition of support for Knutson with 105 signatures. The council had to take public comment in shifts because there just wasn’t enough room in the chambers to accommodate everyone who had an opinion.

Wischmeyer tells me that some die-hard supporters waited outside – not outside the chamber; outside the building in the cold – for the entire hour of executive session so they could hear the final vote.

Sixty people represents a decent crowd for a Sioux Falls city council meeting. Last night, for a high-profile discussion of snowgates, city hall reporter Sarah Reineke tells me there were roughly 120 people on hand. The hall holds 130 with standing room. Council member Kermit Staggers made a remark about how he wished as many people would show up for regular council meetings.

Let’s put this another way, just for fun: Roughly seven percent of Worthing’s population showed up to talk about Knutson. If seven percent of the Sioux Falls population showed up to a city council meeting, we’d be talking about 10,772 people.

The full details of the “repeated unprofessional conduct” that led to Knutson’s termination have not been publicly disclosed, but here’s something we don’t have to guess about: the Worthing chief’s tenure was uniquely lengthy.

For this story about small town officers in Sunday’s paper, I made a request for the names and employment dates of all the officers who’d worked for Tea, Canton and Lennox over the past five years.

Most of the officers had nothing like two decades of service. Five years stood out.

In Canton, former chief Al Warnock worked from 1995-2010. The longest-serving officer who remains is Assistant Chief Dave Jacobs, who has seven years of service.

Former chief Dick Dubro worked 13 years for Tea. The most veteran officer in that town now is Brian Tvedt, who also is the assistant chief. Tvedt started in Tea as a part-time officer in 2003 and came on board full time in 2004.

In Lennox, Chief Russ Nelson had nine years of service when he quit to take a job as a parole officer in October. The longest-serving officer who remains on the full-time roster is Kaven Swearingen, with three years on the force.

Small town officers just don’t last as long as Knutson anymore.Plenty of them bounce from department to department, with those looking to advance their careers aiming for departments with higher pay or better benefits.

To be fair, job-hopping is normal for younger people across the board.

There’s one officer whose name came up repeatedly in my research for the small-town officer story: Sarina Waterman, previously known as Sarina Ten Napel and currently known as Sarina Talich.

Waterman started in Lennox in March of 2007. In November, she left for a full-time job in Tea. Since then, she’s worked for the Centerville Police Department and the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

She’s currently employed as a deputy in the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Worthing apparently has no intention of scrapping its department in favor of a contract with the county, a move many cities in South Dakota have made.

Will their next police chief stick around for 24 years? Is that even a fair measuring stick for a good hiring choice in a world where young people expect to stay at their job for about three years before moving on? Who knows.

In any event, Knutson’s tenure will stand out.

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