Decorated police veteran retires

Bob Wegner
Bob Wegner

Over the past two decades, Eagan police officer Bob Wegner has seen it all: drug smugglers carrying several pounds of meth and criminals hiding in odd places. But now Wegner has left crime fighting for a more relaxing life.

Wegner retired in December after serving on the force for 24 years.

“I want to enjoy life while I still have my health,” the 55-year-old Eagan resident said.

Wegner said he looks forward to taking on new challenges but will miss the camaraderie among Eagan police officers.

The West St. Paul native started on the Eagan police force alongside Chief Jim McDonald in 1988. But unlike McDonald, Wegner was no rookie. He had spent five years as a Dakota County sheriff’s deputy and served as a military police officer before that.

“Bob could always be depended upon,” McDonald said of working with Wegner as a rookie. “He gave so much advice in those early days.”

Since then, Wegner has become highly regarded by the community and the department, McDonald said.

“His work ethic and the way he treated his partners was admirable,” he said. “I wish we had more like him.”

Military beginning

Before he became an officer, Wegner followed the footsteps of several relatives in 1976 by joining the U.S. Air Force at age 18. He left the military after his enlistment ended four years later.

In 1983, Wegner joined the sheriff’s office after studying law enforcement at Inver Hills Community College.

He started his career working in the county jail before moving to patrol for three years.

Dakota County was rapidly growing at the time, yet much of the county consisted of rural townships.

Deputies were responsible for covering vast portions of farmland alone.

“I learned how to deal with people differently because I knew I wouldn’t have backup,” Wegner said.

His first call as a patrol deputy was among the most heart-wrenching. A family called to report an unresponsive infant. It was later determined the child died of sudden infant death syndrome. At the time, Wegner’s own children were around the same age.

After serving half a decade with the Sheriff’s Department, Wegner became interested in joining a K-9 unit. No openings were available at the Sheriff’s Department so he joined Eagan police.

Rookie turned mentor

It was common practice at the time for rookies to first serve as community service officers before patrolling the pavement. Due to his experience, Wegner was able to skip that step.

Within six months of joining the force, Wegner trained at the St. Paul Police Canine Academy and received his first police dog, King.

Wegner quickly fell in love with the unit.

“I liked that it’s high stress,” Wegner said. “I got to go to all the exciting calls.”

He soon learned to always trust his dog’s instincts. Early in his career, Wegner responded to an Eagan home to search for a suspect and King repeatedly stopped at a set of kitchen cabinets. Wegner had thought the dog smelled food inside. Eventually, he followed his dog’s lead and opened the cabinet to find the wanted man inside.

“I learned I should always trust the dog,” Wegner said.

Over the years, Wegner became known as an expert K-9 handler and was often approached for advice, McDonald said.

In 1992, King finished among the top criminal-apprehension dogs for Region 18 in the National Police Canine Trial. The trial provides a competition to show off police dogs’ skills.

By 1996, King became too old to continue working as a police dog, and Wegner began training his new partner, Cody. Unfortunately, the two dogs didn’t get along so King lived the remainder of his days with a Wegner family friend.

Wegner worked with Cody until 2003, when he retired to being the family pet.

By that time, Wegner decided to move onto patrol.

“I decided to let someone else have the opportunity,” he said.

As a traffic officer, Wegner would often remind drivers to buckle up by simply pulling on his seat belt as he drove alongside them.

“I always enjoyed educating the public on safe driving,” he said.

Wegner served as mentor to many rookies over the years. In one memorable call, Wegner and a rookie found a garage bag full of packages wrapped in plastic wrap while searching a vehicle. The rookie thought the packages were wrapped meat, but Wegner’s years of police work told him otherwise. He looked at the rookie and said, “That’s not meat, son.” It turned out to be 11 pounds of methamphetamine worth $500,000.

The drug smugglers were likely pretty upset they were caught, but in many instances, Wegner received letters of gratitude from people he’s arrested.

Wegner received several letters over the years from DUI suspects thanking him for stopping them.

He has received numerous awards from the community and Eagan Police Department throughout his career. Most notably, Wegner was recognized in 2001 for rescuing a couple from a house fire.

Wegner had smelled smoke while on patrol and followed the scent to an Eagan home. The garage was on fire, and Wegner knocked on the door to see if anyone was home. An elderly couple were in the house and unaware of the blaze. The home had no working smoke detectors. Had Wegner not alerted the occupants, they likely would have been killed, fire officials said at the time.

Following the incident, Wegner received a Certificate of Accommodation from the department and was named the Safety Officer of the Year by the Eagan Rotary Club.

When he wasn’t educating others, Wegner devoted time to furthering his own education. In 2009, he earned a bachelor’s degree in police science from St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis. Two years later, Wegner earned a master’s in police leadership from the University of St. Thomas.

Wegner said he enjoyed all the different roles, but the most rewarding was serving as a police escort for the families of fallen police officers during an annual vigil in 2008 in Washington, D.C.

In addition to protecting the city of Eagan as a police officer,  Wegner served his community by raising funds for the Special Olympics and other nonprofit organizations.

Much has changed since Wegner joined the force more than two decades ago. The use and availability of advanced technology has been the greatest change in the department, he said. Today officers are able to read license plates, enter reports and collect data more efficiently with the aid of computers.

Law enforcement seems to be ingrained in Wegner’s DNA, which has been passed on to his son, Christopher, an officer with the Inver Grove Heights Police Department. Wegner’s brother is also in law enforcement as a Minnesota state trooper.

As Wegner looks ahead, he hopes to spend more time with his adult children and young grandson.

“My new grandson is the most exciting aspect of my life now,” Wegner said.

Though he’s no longer protecting the community, Wegner continues to serve it by working as a service truck operator jump-starting vehicles for Mark’s Towing in Eagan.