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Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce President Tom Hastings (right) greets Sgt. Jim Baldwin during his retirement reception at the Hastings Police Department.

After 32 years with the Hastings Police Department, Sgt. Jim Baldwin, known for years as Officer Friendly, hung up his badge Monday.

While serving as public relations officer for the department, Baldwin was known as Officer Friendly. In that capacity, he helped start the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in Hastings with Officer Norma Rust.

“Working with the children is the most memorable part,” Baldwin said of his career. “I’m still called Officer Friendly.”

When he sees children who attended the D.A.R.E. program grow up and become successful, Baldwin finds it rewarding.

Baldwin also helped organize the community celebration for National Night Out. Originally, the event involved individual visits from the police chief to neighborhood gatherings. To make the chief more accessible, organizers decided to hold a communitywide barbecue to celebrate the evening and Baldwin helped put it together.

Baldwin wanted to serve the country from an early age. After graduating high school in 1974 at Redwood Falls, Minn., he applied to join the U.S. Coast Guard, but he had a sleepwalking disorder that prevented his enlistment.

Instead, he went to the Brown Institute in Minnesota to earn a broadcasting diploma and license before starting at a radio station in Redwood Falls.

In 1980, Baldwin moved to Hastings to take a job as news director for KICS. As part of his regular beat, he would visit the police station and became familiar with the department and officers.

But the desire to serve never left.

He decided to apply to become a police officer in 1983 and started working at KRGI in Grand Island for six months before he was selected to join the police department.

At the time, the department was short-handed and it wasn’t long before Baldwin was taking calls on his own, even before his official training at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in January 1984.

He remembers hand-writing reports and using rubber stamps to show vehicles on accident reports. Now, everything is handled by computer.

Baldwin spent five years on patrol before becoming the public relations officer. In 1998, he was promoted to sergeant and went back to the patrol division. In 2005, he joined the investigation division for six years before returning to patrol as a day shift sergeant.

He’s enjoyed serving the community in his various positions with the department.

Baldwin doesn’t have any specific plans for retirement, but will continue working for the city in a part-time capacity to provide maintenance at the city landfill and airport.

“I felt turning 60 was probably long enough for me to do this,” he said. “I’m ready to relax a bit.”

Baldwin said he will miss his co-workers and the camaraderie they’ve developed. He hopes to have made a difference in the community and foster a good relationship between the department and public. He said the newer officers are poised to continue that goodwill.

“I think we have some good people here to foster a good relationship with the community,” he said.

Fellow officer Norma Rust has worked at the department nearly as long as Baldwin. She has worked alongside Baldwin for years and described him as a caring and compassionate officer who is always willing to listen.

“We’re losing 30-some years of experience,” she said. “We need the experience to guide these (new) guys.”

Police Chief Pete Kortum echoed her sentiment.

“We hate to lose experienced people, but I’m very excited for Jim,” he said.

From Hastings Tribune