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Drive to serve leads to law enforcement

When Gordon Ramsay was a 20-year-old police officer in Iron River, Wis., a citizen called 911 to report a 13-year-old was driving around town in a stolen squad car.

Gordon Ramsay
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay speaks to a group of people who participated in a "Walk For Renewal" in Duluth last year. The people were marching to boost residents' spirits over recent crime in the area. (2008 file / News Tribune)

When Gordon Ramsay was a 20-year-old police officer in Iron River, Wis., a citizen called 911 to report a 13-year-old was driving around town in a stolen squad car.

The driver turned out to be Ramsay, who looked so young that he was misidentified. Years later, that "kid" was named chief of the Duluth Police Department.

Ramsay, 37, laughs about the incident. But he admits that even though he was thrilled to have the part-time job while attending the University of Minnesota Duluth, he just didn't have the life experience that's an important part of being a good cop. "Twenty was way too young to be a police officer," he says.

In the 17 years since then, Ramsay has amassed a variety of experiences in police work. He has served in numerous positions within the Duluth Police Department since graduating from UMD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy. He also holds a master's degree from the College of St. Scholastica, serves on community boards and is a husband and father.

Ramsay, whose father was a Scottish immigrant, moved to Duluth when he was in third grade. He attended Congdon Park Elementary School, Ordean Junior High and graduated from East High School in 1990. He and his wife, Tracy, have a 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

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Ramsay never really considered any other career. "The drive he's had to be in law enforcement began when we were young," says Eric Beste, whom Ramsay met at Ordean. "He just had this drive and he's achieved it. I'm just so proud of him."

When former Mayor Herb Bergson appointed Ramsay chief in 2006, he was the youngest person ever to hold that position. He is in charge of a 180-person department with 150 officers and a $17.5 million budget. During his tenure, property crimes have fallen substantially, he has developed closer relations with communities of color and he stays in touch with what happening on the street by going on patrol once a month.

He is an enthusiastic advocate of community policing, which, he says, helps the public get to know the Police Department and cops to know ordinary citizens. "I want to build trust in the community that our cops are here to make a safe city," he says.

In his "20 Under 40" nomination, Lt. John Beyer wrote that Ramsay "lives and breathes the mission statement of the Duluth Police Department: 'The Mission of the Duluth Police Department is to provide the highest level of service through partnerships and problem-solving in a professional, ethical and timely manner.' "

Although Ramsay and Daniel Lew, managing attorney of the 6th District Public Defender's office, are almost always on opposite sides of a case, Lew says he has great respect for the chief.

"He ensures that communities of color have a place at the table," Lew says. "He takes it personally when communities of color think they're not being taken seriously" and he tries to bridge different points of view.

Ramsay has a way of relating and responding to people of all walks of life, says Lew, who calls it "a great talent."

"I think [Ramsay] represents the next generation of critical talent in law enforcement," Lew says. He is "a young, energetic, talented community leader that the city of Duluth can be so proud of."

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