While not much today looks like it did just a year ago, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there is one thing that has continued to remain the same: the service of local law enforcement.

Keeping up with the annual tradition, the Exchange Club of Steele County recognized one member of law enforcement on Friday morning with the title of Peace Officer of the Year. This year, the title was bestowed on Sgt. Bill Youngquist with the Steele County Sheriff’s Office.

“This has been a very tough year for law enforcement, the toughest I’ve ever seen,” said Exchange Club President Mike Brown. “It is only appropriate for us to do something that recognizes the work our law enforcement puts in day in and day out to protect our communities, despite the negative pressures currently around them.”

When asked who he would like to give the honor to this year, Sheriff Lon Thiele was quick to mention Youngquist as more than deserving.

“As a senior staff member with the department, he is really a part of our foundation here to make sure we’re staying on task and doing it right and safely,” Thiele said.

Youngquist first started with the sheriff’s office in 1997, his first job in law enforcement. Prior to coming to Steele County, Youngquist had put in some volunteer work with law enforcement in St. Paul, saying that he knew all along that he wanted to serve the public in some way.

“I didn’t go into the military, and I regret that, but I always knew I wanted to serve,” Youngquist said. “I just needed to give back to the community, and this made sense to me as the way I could do it.”

Starting as a patrol deputy, Youngquist said he was thrown into a squad car on his first day with a senior deputy for ride-alongs as his “training” to learn the ins and outs of the job and the county.

“Our manual was only 20-pages long,” Youngquist said. “I actually helped institute our first field training program so that now our new deputies can have a good start and do it safely versus the ‘learn as you go’ way that it was done before.”

Other changes he has seen over the years range from the installation of computers in squad cars – something Youngquist said has made a world of difference in law enforcement – and the installation of better emergency lights compared to the rotating bulbs he had started with. Though Youngquist admits that the sad calls that bring a lot of heartbreak to the community are the ones that have stuck with him the most in his 20-plus year career, he asserts that he doesn’t want to be anywhere else serving in a profession he loves.

Humbled by the honor from the Exchange Club, Youngquist said it is mornings like Friday that truly show law enforcement how appreciated they are.

“Don’t give us money, don’t buy us food, the ‘thank you’ is enough,” Youngquist said. “We are serving you – it’s what we do – so just wave at us as we go by.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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