The cop with the golf decor on his wall is soon to be the golfer with the cop memorabilia on his wall.
Minot Police Chief Jeff Balentine, 57, retires Friday after 31 years on the force and that will mean more time for golfing this summer.
It's just one of the activities he has planned after he steps down from a position that has not just been a job but an identity for him. During his nearly six years as police chief, Balentine didn't shy away from directing traffic or providing airport security when the department needed an extra hand.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Minot Police Chief Jeff Balentine, whose office decorations include old, woodshaft golf clubs, expects to spend more time on the links in retirement this summer.
"I am a cop. I always will be a cop," Balentine said. "That was my whole goal was to help the citizens. You have to have enforcement, and there's the negative things that the community sees, but there's also the positive things."
One of those positive things is crime prevention and community awareness, which ranks among his favorite jobs in his policing career.
There's also been difficult times, such as the 2011 flood and 2002 train derailment with its anhydrous ammonia spill. The unsolved 2006 disappearance of 3-year-old Reachelle Smith and 2007 homicide of 18-year-old Anita Knutson, the latter which came on his watch as chief, still remain on Balentine's mind. He also views a quadruple murder last year as a blow to the city but credits the work of his police investigators for generating an arrest.
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His toughest job as police chief, though, has been in selecting candidates when staff positions opened for promotions.
"There's so many good people down here, and so few opportunities to advance," he said.
Balentine hopes to be invited back to the department to enjoy the employee promotion ceremonies that always had been a highlight for him.
He leaves content because of his confidence in the commanders whom he helped groom for leadership in the department. That group includes Capt. Jason Olson, who will be replacing him as chief.
Olson said he feels prepared to step into his role because of the mentoring provided by Balentine.
"He's been a person I have looked up to throughout my career. He's been a very good leader," Olson said. "He had a lot of confidence in the people underneath him so we knew we had his backing in making decisions. It creates an atmosphere where you could be more confident."
That practice of preparing employees to make decisions and encouraging them to do so is one that Olson said he wants to continue. Balentine has been an example for him both in leadership and in his personality, which Olson described as good-natured and calm under pressure.
"It's good to know you are working with someone you know will keep their cool in all situations," he said.
Balentine will hand down to Olson a stack of paperwork and some advice. Balentine, who always kept a five-year plan as chief, reminds Olson that Minot is growing and he must plan for the future.
Balentine's unfinished, long-range plan includes satellite police stations in north and south Minot to cut response and commute times. He also set in motion a change in computer systems that eventually will create a paperless platform. Officers will spend less time in the office writing reports because they will be able to simply download work that they complete electronically from their vehicles.
Balentine sees growth ahead for Minot, and that translates into more demands on the police department. A recent weekend from Friday night to Monday morning recorded 258 calls for service.
"I just see the calls for service continuing to increase," he said.
Lack of affordable housing in the area makes it difficult for the police department to hire to keep up with that growth. Authorized for 65 officers, the department currently is short six officers on the street.
With such challenges facing the department, the decision to retire was difficult but the right one, Balentine said.
"The flood really took it out of me - just a range of emotions and to see the city flooded like that and the residents suffering and I can't do a thing about it. Even my employees who were affected it's tough to see them hurting," he said.
"The decision was very, very hard to make to retire, but once I made it, I felt good about it. I think it's the right thing to do at this time in my career. But it's going to be different," he added. "I am going to get out of law enforcement completely. That's my promise to myself right now. I have had some inquiries by oil companies to do security work out in the oil patch. Not interested."
His cop badges and other keepsakes will become memories preserved in a shadow box.
Besides spending time on the golf course, Balentine has plans to travel and then look for a part-time job that will enable him to be among people and have plenty of time off for more travel with his wife, Dee.
Although he had attended high school in Montana, Balentine lived much of his life in the southwestern part of the country, moving from Arizona to Minot in 1981. For someone who enjoys warm weather and the ocean, Minot wasn't the obvious place for him to end up. But once the first winter was under his belt, he became attached to the community, which he says will always be his home.
David Waind, city manager, said Balentine's offer to stay involved and assist the city on committees or in other capacities is indicative of his close connection to the community.
"He's very much a supporter of our community and wants what's best for Minot," Waind said. "It reflects in everything he does, in how he acted as chief. For him, part of the passion for the position was his real care for the community."
Balentine's strong people skills made him an asset to the department and ambassador for the city, said Alderman Chuck Barney, who considers Balentine a friend.
He described the chief as approachable, not just by other officials but by the people he served. Police work, by its nature, can take a toll on a person's emotions, but when it comes to the human element and compassion, Barney said, "Jeff never lost that."