Meet Neil Haugerud

There lives in southern Minnesota a man for whom the old cliché "he lives his life to the fullest" is no cliché at all, but pure and honest truth. In his eight decades on this earth, he has been — among other things — a carpenter, a farmer, a Sunday school teacher, a Marine, an interrogator of accused criminals (who got his subjects to talk with kindness, not waterboarding), a deputy sheriff and sheriff, a real estate and insurance agent, a prominent state legislator, the chair of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission, a small-town newspaper columnist, a mediator and consultant in conflict management, and a loving husband, father, and grandfather.

His name is Neil Haugerud, and throughout his long life and varied career, there has been one constant driving factor: Service to others, bundled with compassion. Now, at an age when most persons have long since retired, the need to be of service to others keeps drawing him to the issue of crime and how best to deal with it.

As a person who has repeatedly and consistently used talking, tact, and kindness to defuse a variety of volatile situations during his lifetime — as a soldier, as a cop, as a legislator, and as a consultant and mediator — Neil Haugerud has long been alarmed at the emphasis placed on turning cops into quick-draw artists. As a state legislator, he sponsored a law that requires all firearm discharges by police to be reported to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The data from the resulting firearm discharge reports tells a chilling tale:

It was, and is, my theory that their "extensive training" is largely responsible for these acts of violence. A prime example of this is found in the firearm discharge reports. In 1998, 45 shots were fired by police during 16 separate incidents. Out of those shots, one was fatal, while six led to wounds. However, less than a decade later, in 2006, 168 shots were fired during 26 incidents, with four fatalities and 12 wounds.

Generally, when an alarming incident occurs, police representatives decry lack of training. The police solution always calls for more training. A prime example of the failure of further and more training occurred in 2000, after a spate of incidents in response to cases involving mentally ill persons. On three separate occasions, police responded by shooting and killing the person.

After an indignant outcry from the community and advocates for the mentally ill, the Minneapolis police initiated a special crisis intervention team, whereby officers with new special training would respond to cases involving the mentally ill. But it wasn’t long before members with this special training were involved in another incident where police shot and killed the patient.

To prevent these tragedies, which he has documented for many years, Mr. Haugerud advocates teaching cops less quick-draw shooting and more neurolinguistics and other forms of communications training — suggestions that, sadly, have fallen on deaf ears and drawn scornful responses, such as that from Edina police chief Mike Siitari, who mocked the former Fillmore County Sheriff’s suggestions as “something Barney Fife would suggest. Unfortunately, we no longer live in Mayberry RFD.” (Of course, what Siitari chooses not to mention is that his city Edina, a ritzy, snobby upper-class suburb of Minneapolis, is not exactly a hotbed of raw danger. Here is the entire crime activity report for the city of Edina for the day of June 21, 2010, as taken from the police report for that week: 10001576, Tamper with Auto; 10001578, Theft; 10001579, Property Damage (somebody keyed a car); 10001582, Misc. Public (possible identity theft); and 100001585, Curfew (a couple of teens were found, probably necking, in a car after dark). But I digress.)

When he isn’t ticking off self-important suburban curfew enforcers over the use of deadly force, or tweaking local conservative know-nothings with graceful examples of his erudition, or bemoaning the poisonous effects of corporate money on democracy, he’s riling up the defenders of the prison-industrial complex over his pacifist stand in the War on Some Drugs. As with his views on police firearms use and training, his background and life experiences make him difficult to shrug off: In addition to his extensive law enforcement background (thirteen years as deputy sheriff and then sheriff of a Minnesota county), he was in the Minnesota state legislature in the 1970s, where as chair of an appropriations committee, he saw firsthand how the war on drugs kept sucking up our tax dollars to no apparent good effect: "Looking back, Neil explains that ‘as chairman of an appropriations committee, I saw money being appropriated for more narcotic agents every year – but drug problems kept getting worse. The requests for more dollars for the same ineffective programs just never ended!’"

On top of that, he has suffered for years from a debilitating nerve membrane disease, arachnoiditis, that has kept him in constant pain that is unmanageable by most legal drugs. He understands full well the position of chemotherapy patients who use marijuana to be able to eat enough to withstand the collateral damage that chemo wreaks, in addition to its effects on the cancers it’s being used to treat.

All of these things — but most especially, an overarching concern for how the drug war is a clear and present danger to the welfare of this country and its constitution, which our soldiers and elected officials are all sworn to protect — is why he’s been a longtime advocate for an armistice. He appeared before the state legislature in 2006 to argue for a medical-marijuana bill, and he’s a member of LEAP, which as frequent FDL readers may know through FDL’s coverage is a group of current and former law enforcement officers speaking out in opposition to America’s current drug policies. He is currently working on a novel that revolves around the use of marijuana in therapeutic settings; it should be published sometime in the next few months.

In short, Neil Haugerud is a treasure of a man. Would that we had more like him.

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