Memorable last patrol: Third-generation St. Paul cop joins ranks as dad retires

Don Benner retires from the St. Paul Police Department on May 26, after 32-year-career that saw him rise from officer to deputy chief. And before he called it a career, wanted to get in one last shift on patrol in a squad, specifically so he could work side-by-side with his son.

"So it was kind of nice to get back on that east side in a training car, remembering my beginning here," said Deputy Chief Benner, standing next to his son Donovan, who joined the department this spring. "And now here he is basically in the same seat, same neighborhoods, doing the same thing, so it is, it’s rewarding, right? Not that many people around here have that opportunity."

Don Benner joined the SPPD in 1990 as a second-generation St. Paul cop. His father, Butch, retired from the department in 1998.

A few months ago, Don pinned a badge on Donovan, who is now the third generation to serve in St. Paul.

"Big shoes to fill," joked Donovan. "I’m a big guy, but I don’t know if I’ll ever climb the ranks like he did!"

Don hadn’t been on a patrol shift in years, but on Thursday, Don joined Donovan for a shift in a squad on St. Paul’s east side, where Don began his career and how his son is doing the same.

"I grew up watching this guy, helping him get dressed to go to work and putting on his belt-keepers," said Donovan. "So to finally be side-by-side with him out on the streets is kind of … it’s really rewarding. We’re both learning a lot today, it’s been a while since he’s been out, and I’m new as is, so yeah, it’s been great so far."

Don Benner joked that in his career, there were only two things he didn’t do: ride a horse and ride a motorcycle. Aside from those, he did just about everything else in the department, including a stint as a K9 handler, which he said might have been his favorite thing.

He learned a lot from his own father, said Don, especially the way he worked so well with the community, having a sixth sense about the right way to do the job.

"And that’s what I saw in this one as he grew up, you know, listening to my radio and picking it up, and I could see it. I could see he had that same knack of the job. And lo and behold, here he is years later standing next to me," Don said. 

As for what advice he gives Donovan, now just beginning a career as Don ends his, it’s simple.  

"I’ve always said it, just treat people the way you want them to treat you," said Don Benner. "That’s all that this job is. Just treat them well, that kindness, that concern and that true caring, and things will be good."