Mounds View welcomes new police chief


Nathaniel Harder was sworn in as Mounds View’s police chief Aug. 22.

Nathaniel Harder takes over after Kinney’s retirement

There’s a new chief in town, and he says one of his primary goals is to engage the community.

Nathaniel Harder was sworn in as Mounds View’s police chief at the Aug. 22 city council meeting. 

Taking the reins from Tom Kinney — who retired April 29 after 31 years of working in the Mounds View Police Department, six of which as chief — Harder, 42, may be new to the department but he’s no stranger to the field of law enforcement.

 

South, West, North, Midwest

Harder’s career in police work started in the 1990s — when he became a military police officer in the Marine Corps — and it has landed him in all sorts of places. 

He became a police officer in Arlington, Texas, in 1996, and stayed there for seven years.

After that, Harder worked in Spokane, Washington, for a few years. Though “it was beautiful out there,” he said, he, his wife and four daughters moved to Minnesota, where Harder and his wife originally met, and where he’d gone to school at Bethel University.

From 2005 to 2009, he worked as an officer in Brooklyn Park. 

But then the adventure bug struck. 

“I grew up in northern New Mexico, and I love the mountains,” Harder said. “It’s one of those things about me I guess. So we went up to Alaska, and I was a state trooper up there for a little while.”

Though there were mountains, living so far from family and friends wasn’t much to his family’s liking, he explained. 

“I liked it, but the longer we were there the more we realized it wasn’t the best place to raise our four daughters. ... The idea of Alaska is better than Alaska itself,” he joked. “But it was a fun experience.”

From Alaska, the family moved back to Minnesota in 2010, but not to the Twin Cities area. 

Harder took a job as police chief of Breckenridge, Minnesota, about 30 minutes south of the Fargo-Moorhead area. He was chief there for more than six and a half years, up until Aug. 5. 

 

Community engagement 

Harder, whose first day working at the MVPD was Aug. 15, said one of the reasons he and his family relocated to the Twin Cities area was for his daughters, ages 11, 13, 15 and 17. 

“We had a great time in Breckenridge, but with the girls getting older — they’re gonna be going to college soon — there’s just more opportunities here,” he said, adding that, if they should choose to attend college in the Twin Cities, their family and support would be closer. 

It wasn’t only opportunities for the girls that brought the family to Mounds View. Harder said the job was also quite appealing. 

“One of the things that drew me to Mounds View is that this agency is very involved in outreach and that’s something we excelled at in Breckenridge,” Harder said, noting that he aims to build on that effort. 

According to Mounds View City Administrator Jim Ericson, a handful of candidates were selected for interviews based on their backgrounds, experience, essays and knowledge of police work. 

“Community engagement was one of the council’s priorities — one of the things they were looking for in a new chief,” Ericson said. “The level of experience and initiative that Chief Harder had exhibited in Breckenridge really appealed to the council.”

 

Building relationships

Much of the Breckenridge police department’s community engagement focused on youth programs, he said. Some popular events and activities they came up with included a mobile rock climbing wall that belonged to the police department, which officers would bring around for kids to climb on.

There was also a kids-and-cops hockey game and a father-daughter ball, both of which “were a huge hit,” Harder said.

They didn’t limit their outreach to just kids. Harder also spearheaded the creation of a veterans park, which featured a vintage Vietnam War-era Cobra helicopter that the department had restored and mounted in the park. 

For the park’s grand opening, Harder even tracked down the man who piloted the aircraft during the war and had him attend. 

“That was one of the things that we were really proud of,” Harder said. “That project could seem to have nothing to do with law enforcement, but it has everything to do with building relationships.”

 

‘Foot on the gas’

In his career, Harder has been a patrol officer, a gang investigator, an academy instructor, a SWAT team officer, leader, commander, a street crimes officer, a law enforcement trainer and a chief. 

“But in all that, the one thing I’ve always been most passionate about is youth and community outreach,” he said. “Law enforcement is law enforcement, but every city is different and has its own unique flavor. I love what the officers are doing here, and we’re just gonna build on it.”

Harder intends to keep his “foot on the gas with community engagement,” he said, important especially in a time when rifts are developing between police and residents nationally.

“I’m very impressed with the caliber of officers we have here, and the great working relationship the department has with the city council and the city manager,” he said. 

“I’m very approachable, and I’m very much looking forward to getting to know people.”

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

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