After 10 years of serving as chief of the Wadena Police Department and almost 40 years in law enforcement, Bruce Uselman is finally willing to let someone else walk the beat. Although he is retiring as chief effective this July, Uselman said he may continue working in the general sense after he leaves. Now, however, he is focused on the transition to a new leader for the department.
“I’d like to think that I left things in good order here,” he said.
Uselman’s life in law enforcement began just two years after he graduated from what was then Wadena High School in 1974. He started out as a jailer/dispatcher for the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office under Manley Erickson, where he was tasked with watching over both the department’s radio communications and up to ten prisoners in county lock-up simultaneously. The rudimentary training and equipment given to deputies at that time made the job somewhat hectic, Uselman recalled. For example, the remote locks on the jail’s security door were a bit picky about when they were willing to work, and Uselman remembers being startled in the early morning hours by random visitors who had managed to enter through the supposedly locked security door without him knowing anything about it.
“I was pretty excited to put the brown uniform on... but each day I’d go home and I’d go ‘That’s the last time I’m working there,’” he said with a smile.
Despite the difficulty of the jailer/dispatcher job, Uselman stayed with the sheriff’s office for 13 years while working in various capacities, including as a deputy. In 1986, he began studying law enforcement at Alexandria Technical College, graduating two years later. He became a patrolman for the WPD in 1989, and was promoted to the post of sergeant-investigator the following year. In 2003, Uselman filled in as interim chief after Lane Waldahl retired, and was chosen to head up the department permanently.
There are a number of cases and events that have stuck with Uselman over the years. Although Uselman was not directly involved with investigating the Carla Anderson disappearance when it occurred in 1987, the case has remained unsolved and active to this day.
“That has been a burden not only for myself as chief, but also Lane Waldahl as chief,” Uselman said.
Other memories that weigh on Uselman include the death of Officer Pete Resch in 2005 from a heart attack while making an arrest, an officer-involved shooting and the 2010 tornado. Although the tornado was a trying time for both the department and Wadena as a whole, Uselman said, it was satisfying to see how the community-- emergency workers and average citizens --banded together during the recovery.
“We’re stronger as a department,” he said. “It made better officers out of all of us here.”
Uselman said he and his wife, Joyce, will now have more time to spend with their parents, to get involved with their church and to do community service.