FACES AND PLACES: Pedal patrol
When it comes to patrolling the streets, Grand Forks police officer LaVonne Nelson prefers pedal power as her mode of transportation. Nelson has been a member of the Grand Forks Police Department's bike patrol since 2002 and its coordinator for t...
When it comes to patrolling the streets, Grand Forks police officer LaVonne Nelson prefers pedal power as her mode of transportation.
Nelson has been a member of the Grand Forks Police Department's bike patrol since 2002 and its coordinator for the past five years. Being on the patrol allows her to get places she couldn't' reach from a car, she said. She rides her bike through alleys, in between apartment buildings and on the Greenway.
"Our focus is where a squad car can't get. Any place a road or path ends, we get on our bikes," Nelson said. "Even places you can get to, you can see and hear more. It gives you a different perspective of what's going on."
Being on the seat of a bike not only affords her the opportunity to get places she couldn't reach in a car, it allows her to see things from a different perspective, she said. Her bike, equipped with a red, white and blue lights, commands respect.
"A lot of us carry whistles as an attention getter."
Nelson hopes to spend 100 hours on bike patrol this summer and fall and is one-fifth of the way to her goal.
Being a police officer was a longtime dream of Nelson's. Her step-father, Jim Larter, worked for U.S. Customs Enforcement in Pembina, N.D., and her oldest brother, Jeff Nelson, is a Roseau (Minn.) County deputy sheriff.
When her brother, then a junior in high school, decided to go into law enforcement, Nelson knew she wanted to follow in his footsteps.
"When I was in fifth grade, I decided to be a cop." Whenever Jeff Nelson came home to visit, they watched police shows, such as "Cops" and "NYPD Blues" together, she said.
"We'd talk about them. He would explain things to me and reassure me that crimes aren't solved in the hour. They're more in depth and detail than the hour show."
Her parents have long supported her in her goal,
"When I graduated from college in Thief River Falls they got me a duty belt. Her parents provided her financial assistance, but more importantly, offered her emotional support.
"They stood behind me. They always knew that's what I wanted to do. They always tell me they're so proud of me, that I went after my goal and achieved it."
After graduating from Lancaster (Minn.) High School in 1995, Nelson enrolled at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, and took law enforcement courses, and then landed a job with the UND Police Department in Grand Forks. She attended a 12-week police training session in Bismarck and received 16 weeks of additional on-the-job training.
While she was a UND police officer, she patrolled campus, working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.
In October 2000 Nelson moved to the Grand Forks Police Department where she worked on the patrol for several years, and then transferred to the department's Community Resource Bureau. As a member of the Community Resource Bureau, she assists rental agencies with crime-free housing, doing background checks and working with landlords. She also works with school, teaching educational programs.
Besides her day job, Nelson also works for the Immigrations Customs Enforcement, Grand Forks division, after hours, as a decoy for the agency. She pretends to be a teenage girl and chats online with potential predators. She also works as a decoy on her own.
Nelson enjoys most aspects of her police jobs.
"It's awesome. It's very rewarding. Every day is a challenge but every day is something different. It keeps me going."
Since August, Nelson and her husband, Jason Dvorak, who also is a Grand Forks Police Department officer, have been balancing their work with taking care of their sons. Jordan, now 5 years old, was diagnosed in August 2009 with leukemia and has since been undergoing treatments. The couple also has a 8-month-old baby named Andrew.
Nelson has learned during the past nine months that her life can change in the blink of an eye.
"Before, my job controlled my life. I was always looking for extra shifts." Now she spends the extra hours with her family. Jordan loves hearing the stories about catching "bad guys" and is proud of her police work.
"It's something my son looks up to."
Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .