'Code 4' tells the stories of Minnesota man's 37-year law enforcement career
Terry Smith never thought he would work in law enforcement. Now, he has a 37-year police career to look back on and a self-published book filled with memories of his experiences.
BEMIDJI — Terry Smith never thought he would work in law enforcement.
Now, the Duluth native has a 37-year police career to look back on and a self-published book filled with memories of his experiences.
In "Code 4: True Stories from a 37 Year Police Veteran," Smith dives into many aspects of his years working in various areas of law enforcement all over Minnesota.
Published in August 2021, the book is available on Amazon as well Bemidji-area bookstores.
The road to writing a book was a long one for Smith. It all started when he was a college student at the University of Minnesota in 1965, working the night shift at a Bloomington gas station.
One evening, a police officer stopped in to grab a coffee and handed Smith a job application. The officer told him that the Bloomington Police Department was hiring and advised him to apply.
“I had never even thought of police work,” Smith recalled. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do for a career.”
Smith applied, and to his surprise, was hired as a Bloomington police officer. That one interaction at the gas station proved to be life-changing for Smith.
“To my utter amazement, years later I found myself at the end of a 37-year police career,” Smith said.
Starting off his career as an officer in Bloomington, Smith was later recruited to join the Minnesota Attorney General’s Organized Crime Intelligence Unit in 1973, which was later absorbed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
After working out of the BCA’s St. Paul office for several years, he was promoted to Special Agent in Charge of the BCA’s Bemidji Regional Office, where he remained until his retirement in 2003.
“One of the things that’s a little unusual about my police career is that I had more varied assignments than most cops have,” Smith said.
Throughout his career, Smith’s titles included undercover narcotics agent, crime scene technician, organized crime investigator, SWAT team member, narcotics supervisor and homicide investigator.
Working in all these different positions, unsurprisingly, led Smith to develop quite the collection of on-the-job stories.
“I started writing these (stories) down without any idea that I was writing a book — I was just writing stories for my grandkids,” said Smith, who lives in Bemidji with his wife Elizabeth. “My kids had heard all this stuff around the dinner table, but my grandkids didn’t have any idea what I had done.”
His grandchildren, Smith said, would often share these anecdotes with others, and the feedback he would often receive was that he should put his stories in a book. For a while, he brushed off the thought of actually doing it.
“Finally it dawned on me one day — maybe I could do a book,” Smith recalled. “I actually had almost all of it written before I really got serious.”
With help along the way from Bemidji author Wendell Affield and others in the community offering guidance, Smith learned the ropes of writing, editing and self-publishing a book.
Creating a book
Writing the stories, for Smith, was the easy part.
“I’ve always had a very excellent memory,” Smith said. “I also kept newspaper clippings from just about every significant case I was involved in.”
In addition to his sharp memory and a hefty collection of newspaper clippings, Smith also made it a point to reach out to others who were involved in the cases he wrote about to ensure his recountings were as accurate as possible.
“With those three things — my memory, newspaper clippings and double-checking with other people who were there — it makes me feel like what you read in there is what happened,” Smith said. “It is really important to me that if I’m going to do this, I want to make sure I’m telling the truth and being accurate.”
The end product resulted in a nearly 200-page memoir detailing much of Smith’s career.
A unique mix of stories
Anecdotes from his decades in law enforcement are just one piece of the book, though. Smith also offers his perspective on modern issues facing the policing profession, as well as his thoughts on topics like death and courage.
Additionally, Smith delves into a couple of the more notable cases he was involved in, describing his work on the abduction/homicide cases of Julie Holmquist and Katie Poirier . Smith discusses the process of investigating these cases and how he and his team were ultimately able to solve each case.
With a mix of unique job tales, case breakdowns and general observations about his career, Smith hopes that there’s something in his book for everyone.
“My target audience is everybody,” Smith said. “True crime stories seem to be so interesting to so many people.”
For Smith, his goal for the book is twofold — to entertain and to educate.
“I want people to come to a fuller understanding of what it is that happens in the police world and I want them to understand the character of most of the people that I worked with, they’re some really good people,” Smith said. “That’s what I want people to get out of it.”
Writing content for the book, as it turns out, came easy to Smith. But not everything about bringing "Code 4" to life was so simple.
“One of the hardest things you’ll ever do if you write a book is trying to think of what the title should be,” Smith said with a chuckle. “I must have sat there for many hours brainstorming.”
After plenty of scrapped ideas, Smith said a specific police radio code came to mind — Code 4.
“Code 4 is what you say on the police radio when you’ve gone to a dangerous call and you’ve got it handled,” Smith explained, “so everything is under control and you don’t need any help.”
This, Smith expressed, was a perfect analogy to sum up his career.
“I put that into the context of my own life,” Smith said. “I made it through 37 years, took some tremendous risks. . . but I came to the end of my career and I’m good, so I’m Code 4.”