Honored cop keeps eye out for bad guys
Schutz is member of Street Crimes Unit
It was one of those moments in police work when the wrong choice was not an option.
Derek R. Schutz, Burnsville’s newly announced 2011 Officer of the Year, and his partner, Casey Smith, had stopped a car with equipment violations.
Two of the three adults in the car were men with violent criminal histories and were well-known by the cops. When they spotted the butt of a handgun at the feet of a man in the backseat, the officers pulled their own guns.
Instead of following orders to keep his hands up and exit the car, the man started reaching into his jacket.
“It was a tense probably 30 seconds where there was consideration on both of our parts,” Schutz said of him and his partner. “We talked afterwards. It was borderline using deadly force and shooting because of what was going on with (the suspect’s) movements. What complicated that was, right next to him, was an infant in a car seat. So thankfully, he was not reaching for another weapon.”
Schutz deals with a lot of known bad guys as half of the Burnsville Police Department’s two-person Street Crimes Unit. He and Smith drive an unmarked car and focus their efforts on crime hot spots and emerging crime trends.
“It is a very good gig,” said Schutz, 40. “You’re a proactive unit, and you’re trying to concentrate on the hot spots in the city and keep tabs on basically your career criminals and what they’re up to.”
His work with Street Crimes is one dimension of a well-rounded cop nominated for the Officer of the Year award by Sgt. Jef Behnken and selected by a department committee.
“Derek’s activity level each day is very high and the types of cases (drugs, weapons, warrant, vice) and arrests made are significant,” Burnsville police Sgt. Dan Athmann wrote in a performance evaluation. “Derek is a role model for team spirit and teamwork.”
The Pine Island, Minn., native veered into police work well after graduating with a kinesiology degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he started at quarterback for two years.
He worked for a sports medicine clinic in California for four years. But a long-held interest in police work lingered. Schutz took academy training in California and was hired in 2001 by San Leandro, a city bordering Oakland. He returned to Minnesota to work for Burnsville five and a half years ago.
During that time he’s served as a patrol officer, use-of-force instructor, gang officer, Emergency Action Group-Tactical Team member and street crimes officer. He was a firearms instructor in California.
“You can’t do everything,” Schutz said.
“But I still wanted to try to do as many of the different specialties as I could. It helps you to be more well-rounded, to do a better job,” he said.
Part of his job with the Street Crimes Unit is working with affected neighborhoods, other cops and other city departments to head off emerging crime problems.
“It does not matter who asks for help, whether internal or external partners, Derek will do whatever it takes,” Athmann wrote.
The traffic stop Schutz and Smith made on May 16, 2011, uncovered a stolen handgun, cocaine, marijuana and $600 in cash. Two men were charged with first-degree controlled substance crimes, being a felon in possession of a firearm and child endangerment. The Dakota County Drug Task Force gave Schutz a written commendation.
Other cases have murkier endings.
On Jan. 16, 2011, the Street Crimes Unit arrested a prostitute working out of a Burnsville motel. The Kansas woman, a single mother of 21 or 22, “basically told us she had been bought and sold three or four different times, starting in Kansas and basically winding up here,” Schutz said. “She was given a bus ticket and told that ‘Someone will meet you in Minneapolis.’ She was picked up there and forced into working for him under the threat that if she didn’t, he’d take her child.”
Because the case crossed state lines, Burnsville turned it over to the FBI, which met with the woman and tried to learn the identity of the Minneapolis contact.
“I don’t know where that case went,” Schutz said. “The last I heard, the victim kind of fell out of contact.”
Schutz, who is married and has two children, ages 3 and 18 months, is eager to return to street crimes after doing light duty since last December, when the ex-quarterback returned from rotator-cuff surgery.
He was role-playing a hostage-taker while teaching use of force when he and his “hostage” took a tumble.
“My hand got pinned as we went to the ground,” Schutz explained. “My body continued, but my arm and shoulder did not.”
John Gessner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sunthisweek.