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Brennan: Calling it a day

By Staff | Jan 6, 2011

Retiring Ames Police Department Commander Mike Brennan shows off his badge and other badges he has collected in 30 years of duty. – photo courtesy Amy Vinchattle, Ames Tribune

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article on former Emmetsburg native Mike Brennan, son of the late Joe and Cecilia Brennan, is reprinted with permission of the Ames Tribune.

Mike Brennan doesn’t do battle stories, even though he’s had his share.

Hanging in Brennan’s office is a photo of him in the thick of one of the Veishea riots (he can’t remember which one), thronged by rampaging students and holding one unruly youth in a headlock. But those kinds of memories aren’t the things that stick out for him.

“They all run together after awhile,” he said.

Instead, when Brennan reflects back on his career with the Ames Police Department, a career that began as an officer on the night shift and progressed to heading up the department’s investigation division, he remembers some of the cases he wishes he hadn’t been a part of, including fatal car accidents, incidents where someone was badly hurt and especially suicides. Brennan has taken suicide calls both as an officer and as an investigator, and even when the job had numbed him to the shock of seeing blood, these cases always had the power to get to him.

“That was always really disturbing to me, to think that there were people who had gotten to the point in their life where they’d made a decision to kill themselves,” he said. “I think that probably impacted me more than having to see and deal with the carnage. The blood and guts of police work, it’s a crass thing to say, but you do get used to it pretty quickly. You have to.”

The trick to surviving it, he said, is being able to leave the job behind when your shift is over – to be able to walk away from it.

On Jan. 7, Brennan will leave the job behind for good, ending a 30-year career with the Ames Police Department.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Thirty years is a long time. It’s certainly been long enough for me. I’ve really enjoyed it, but I also recognize that I have the opportunity now to take some time and think about what I want to do with my remaining years.”

A husband and father of two (one of whom followed in his footsteps and became a police officer in Ankeny), Brennan said he’s ready to move on after three decades of law enforcement. He said he plans on doing a lot of “stupid little things” he’s told himself he ought to do over the years, along with a few other chores he knows are waiting for him on the other side of retirement.

“For the next six months, I’m just going to see how retirement goes,” he said. “I’m going to see how long it takes me to get bored.”

Brennan’s first law enforcement stint came during his enlisted days; he was picked as a Military Police Corps officer for the U.S. Army, something that chose him rather than the other way around.

“They basically said, ‘OK, you’re 6 feet tall; you’re going to be a military policeman,'” Brennan said.

It turned out that the incidental assignment was a great opportunity, he said. Brennan worked as an MP in Germany for three years and learned a lot about police work during that time. He learned, most importantly, that he liked it.

“I think I enjoyed the fact that I was able to help people and really have an impact,” he said.

After his stint in the U.S. Army, he studied criminal justice and business administration at Mankato State University, and after college landed his first police job in Ames, where he has stayed for the duration of his career.

Brennan joined the force Dec. 22, 1980, working the night shift, and stayed there for 12 years. New hires are generally given the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, while other shifts are assigned based on seniority. Brennan found the overnight hours gave him the ability to spend lots of time with his family.

“I was able to go to my kids’ school activities and spend a lot of time with them,” he said. “For a while, I don’t think they thought I even had a job.”

A promotion came in 1995 when Brennan became a corporal. He quickly ended up as a detective working fraud cases, but after a year or so requested a transfer to the juvenile detective slot, an assignment he said was the best of his career.

“When you work with adults, they pretty much have made their minds up for life,” Brennan said. “With kids, they’re still impressionable, and I think that what we do as adults can make a very big impact on the directions they go. I think it was always great for me to be able to sit down with those kids’ parents and talk to them and see what’s going on in their lives and in their kids’ lives, and basically come up with a plan as to how this kid is going to get his head screwed back on right.”

The full rewards of the job, Brennan said, came later when he would see some of those same kids, fully grown, straightened out and doing well.

“Most of these kids, eventually they grow up, and they figure it out,” he said. “And you hope that you had a part in that process.”

Brennan said if he had stayed assigned to juveniles, it would have been fine by him. But in 2000, then-Chief Dennis Ballantine promoted him to sergeant. In 2002, he was made lieutenant under then-Chief Loras Jaeger, and eventually he became a commander under current Chief Charles Cychosz.

Said Cychosz, “One of the things about Mike that I’ve really been struck by is that even at this stage in his career, even when we’re down to counting the days, he’s still taking on new tasks and giving the kind of attention to detail that every superior wishes for. To still have such a positive attitude and to still have such energy along with the experience and talent and intuition and training to have come from his years of work, it’s a rare combination and one that we’ve really benefited from.”

Now, Brennan looks back on his career with both fondness and the realization that the time has come to move on.

“I’ll miss the people I work with here and the people I come into contact with in the community,” he said. “But it’s time for me to do something different. And we’ve got some young folks here who are more than willing to fill in for me when I leave.”