The Powell Police Department had two new officers recently complete their field training with the agency, and it will soon hire another new officer to maintain exisiting staff levels. The changes are in addition to the planned promotion of Sgt. Roy Eckerdt to the chief’s position at the end of the year, the recent promotion of Officer Chad Miner to sergeant and retirement of Officer Kevin Schmidt.
Police Chief Tim Feathers, who’s retiring at the end of December, spoke of the changes and coming challenges for the department at a Nov. 4 ceremony officially pinning Miner as a sergeant.
Citing the department’s youth, particularly the new officers, Feathers said they’ll need a “firm and steady hand.” The chief said Miner may be in-line for a baptism of fire, but “we are confident that he is up to the challenge.”
Miner, 34, has been with the department for eight and a half years.
“It’s very exciting looking into our (department’s) future and knowing I’ll get to be a part of that,” Miner said in a statement.
The department’s two newest officers, Jason Pellegrino and Reece McLain, and retiring Officer Kevin Schmidt are profiled below.
Officer Reece McLain
Reece McLain had been thinking about getting into law enforcement for the past few years. When positions opened up at the Powell Police Department this summer, “it felt like the right time and the right thing to do,” he said in a recent interview.
McLain and Jason Pellegrino (see below) were both hired in July and both recently completed their field training with the department.
For McLain, one aspect of the job has proven more time-consuming than he expected: the paperwork.
“You know there’s always going to be paperwork but I had no idea the amount that it would actually be,” he said.
McLain, 39, has lived in Park County for about 13 years, spending about eight in Cody working on ranches. He and his family moved to Powell about five years ago and he’s worked for Two Tough Guys Services.
“The more time we spent (in Powell), the more we liked the community and I felt it was time for a change and this (police position) would be a good way to give back to the community that we were in,” McLain said.
He and his wife have two daughters, one in elementary school and one in middle school.
“I feel pretty fortunate; I feel it’s a pretty good department,” McLain said. “You know the guys here, I really feel they’re a pretty good bunch of guys.”
Officer Jason Pelligrino added to police force
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Jason Pellegrino of becoming a police officer. There were several reasons why he felt that way when he applied this year: the slow winter seasons of the construction business, a bit of a family history in law enforcement and, though he says it probably sounds cliche, a desire to help people. Pellegrino, 29, said he wanted to be an officer who’s more than a ticket-writer and gets to the root of problems — from family trouble to addictions.
“I just like helping people, and I get to see a lot of that every day,” he said.
The shift-work, which at-times means patrolling all night, has “taken a little bit for my family to get used to, but I think it’s been good (overall),” said Pellegrino, who is married and has a 2 1/2 year-old daughter.
Owning his own construction business (Integrity Building Services) had brought months away from home, odd days off and a Colorado job where he worked at night and slept days, so the unusual hours aren’t too foreign.
Pellegrino, who’s lived in Park County for 10 years and Powell for four, said one of the unexpected parts of the job is how much “under-the-blanket” crime occurs in Powell and the Big Horn Basin.
“There’s a lot more that goes on here than people realize,” he said. The education started in his first days — technically nights — on the job.
On his first two uniformed shifts, there was a possible stolen vehicle, an arrest of a man with a warrant, a bar fight, two or three fights at a Mexican dance, a domestic disturbance and a public intoxication.
“It was like culture shock,” Pellegrino said.
Also unexpected, but in a good way, was learning how tightly-knit the department is, from the officers to dispatchers.
While he’s heard police bad-mouthing in the community, “being on the inside, these guys all care about the community and they want to do what’s right and they’re probably one of the best sets of guys I’ve been around.”
On Saturday, Oct. 29, Powell Police Officer Kevin Schmidt left the police station and headed south down the alley towards Second Street. It was the route he’d made countless times over the past 20 years to start each patrol shift. But this time, Schmidt was out of uniform, on foot and the steps were the first of his retirement.
“You’re walking away from a lot of stuff that you’ve had for that amount of time,” Schmidt said in an interview last week, adding, “It was a different feeling.”
Schmidt’s 20 years with the department included time as a patrol officer, a training officer and some time as a sergeant.
“It was a good career,” he said. “The Lord through that provided for me and the family very well.”
Schmidt now plans to start an independent, fundamental Baptist church in Powell, answering a call he’s felt for more than a decade. That call, plus a general feeling that it was “time for new people to come in and make changes” led to him planning to retire this year.
His 15-year-old son (one of four children) is looking at law enforcement as a career and Schmidt is also looking forward to helping hone that interest.
The 41-year-old Schmidt was just 20 when hired by the Powell Police Department; the agency actually had to wait until his 21st birthday before starting him.
Schmidt says he was pretty aggressive when he started, learning over time that a more tempered approach can be better received by the community and more effective.
Schmidt said he worked hard over his career to show the community he was someone with character that could be trusted — not only by Powell leaders but by the less law-abiding parts of the community.
Building relationships with those folks can encourage them to come to police when they need help or when they have information about other crimes, he said. By the end of his career, initially distrustful people would want to talk, giving Schmidt a welcome chance to help them get on the right track.
“I hope to be able to aid the department still from the capacity of being a minister,” he added.
Getting drunk drivers off the road was a “real rewarding” part of the job, as was an incident in the earlier years of his career, when he was able to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a young girl who was choking.
Schmidt was involved in a high-profile incident in May 2007 when he shot a Powell man in the Queen’s Village Trailer Court. The reportedly suicidal man had fired a gun in his trailer and the bullet passed into a neighboring trailer. Schmidt shot and wounded the man as he attempted to flee in a vehicle, as he appeared to be handling a weapon, officials said, and the shooting was ruled to be justified.
“That was probably one of the toughest things in my career that I had to do, to be ... brought to the point where you had to pull the trigger to try to stop the events that were happening,” he said.
“That was something that I didn’t ever want to have to do,” Schmidt said, though he’s thankful that no life was lost and the incident was brought to an end.
He still rarely talks about it.
“The only thing that really kept me going through that was my faith in the Lord, gave me the strength,” Schmidt said, along with “knowing that you did the right thing, made the right decision.”
He’ll miss the people at the department and his interactions with the community as an officer, but he won’t necessarily miss the varying hours that can run late and into holidays and weekends.
For the last year, Schmidt only worked a night shift (8 p.m. to 4 a.m.). Although it sounds unpleasant, “I actually kind of liked it,” he said.
“It was the one time in probably my whole career that I had a consistent schedule and days off,” Schmidt said.
His final shift ran into the early morning of Oct. 29, the day he turned in his equipment.
After walking down the alley, Schmidt headed to the Rocky Mountain Manor, where his wife works. In an incident familiar to an officer, their visit was preempted by manor fire alarms prompted by burnt popcorn.
The retired status didn’t stop Schmidt from lending a hand.