Johnson steps in to lead search for new Park Rapids police chief

Harlan Johnson has an important job to do in Park Rapids and a short time to get it done. Johnson is on a three-month contract to provide administrative oversight of the Park Rapids Police Department after former chief Terry Eilers retired July 1.

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Harlan Johnson is an independent contractor hired by the City of Park Rapids to carry out the responsibilities of interim police chief through Sept. 30.
Kevin Cederstrom

Harlan Johnson has an important job to do in Park Rapids and a short time to get it done. Johnson is on a three-month contract to provide administrative oversight of the Park Rapids Police Department after former chief Terry Eilers retired July 1.

"My main goal is to hire a new chief," Johnson said. "That’s my first assignment, is to get a new chief."

The city council is expected to formally approve at its meeting on Tuesday, July 12 a request to advertise the chief position.

"We’re looking for someone with experience in supervision, and even better if they have experience as a chief," Johnson said. "That’s still the council’s prerogative in who they want to hire. I want to line up applicants for them to search from."

Johnson is retired chief of the Deephaven Police Department and former executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. In that position, Johnson said he had the opportunity to mentor a lot of new chiefs and a lot of seasoned chiefs. Johnson was a sergeant with the Bemidji Police Department prior to becoming chief in Deephaven.


He moved to the Park Rapids area 1 ½ years ago and lives on Long Lake. The city hired Johnson as an independent contractor to replace Eilers on an interim basis until a new chief is in place.

The council has given Johnson the administrative oversight of the department with the same department head authority over administrative matters as the chief. According to the contract, he will be paid



$5,000 per month based on an average 40 hours per week.

Since he was retired from law enforcement Johnson does not have a current license and does not have the authority to make arrests or carry a weapon while on duty.

Johnson said every sworn officer has absolute discretion to make or not make an arrest, and no one can order a police officer to make an arrest.

"I will not be making arrests, I will be riding with officers from time to time to get to know them, the city, and the concerns of officers," he said. "With this data I will be better able to make recommendation to the council and make changes to the organization of the police."


Carrie Parks is the senior officer in the Park Rapids PD and is designated the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO), which makes her the administrative contact person in the department for the state licensing agency.

In the search for a new chief Johnson said the applicants could come from anywhere, from across the state to within the department.

"What we’re going to look for is the best candidate," he said. "Anything is possible. Nobody has been disqualified and nobody has been hand-picked either. My goal is I want to get this done as soon as possible."

The sooner the better, Johnson explained, so he has an opportunity to work with the new chief within his three-month contract.

Johnson has been on the job a week and first held a department meeting to introduce himself and get to know the officers and staff.

Finding a new chief is priority but in the meantime Johnson said he is looking at things in the department with a new set of eyes. He’s going through policies to see if the policies are applicable to what’s actually being done.

As he studies policies and procedures, said changes will come about but they will be slow changes because "nothing happens fast in government."

One thing Johnson will change is going back to is a traditional police uniform. Currently the Park Rapids PD have two uniforms, one a more casual shirt with embroidered badge and the other the traditional full uniform.


"I think the people that come in contact with the police should know what a policeman looks like," he said of one change he expects to make.

Johnson said he plans to continue taking a close look at the department and it’s hard to make changes unless you observe the process.

"You don’t want to change things for change’s sake," he explained. "You have to look at the whole process and see if it’s working. If it’s not broken don’t fix it."

From what he has observed so far Johnson said Park Rapids is a good police department with good officers.

One goal he has is to make the police department more visible in the community and changing some patrol procedures. One such example is an officer this week walked downtown on Main and following that Johnson said he received a couple phone calls from business owners who said they appreciated the visible presence.

"This is something a lot of retired chiefs would love to be able to do. They have the expertise and want to be able to use it," Johnson said of his interim position. "I’m only going to be here three months but I hope to leave a legacy."

He said that legacy is improving the department.

"It’s kind of like when you go to a campground leave it better than you found it."


It’s a simple approach.

Johnson said the Park Rapids PD has good people that understand and somc of the things we’ve talked about they agreed. One thing is the department established a set of core values to follow.

"Law enforcement isn’t a profession it’s a passion for me," he said. "Once you get into a management position it’s even more of a passion. This is your house. You want your house to be the best house."

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