Kansas' longest-serving police chief retires after 33 years

VICTORIA, Kan. | Don Pruitt finally got the message: His job was interfering with his golf game.

So he decided to retire.

But with nearly 33 years as the Victoria police chief under his belt, he was eligible. In fact, the 58-year-old Pruitt could have retired three years earlier under state retirement rules.

Pruitt started working for the Victoria Police Department in February 1975 and was promoted to chief in May that same year.

It's a position he's had since then, making him the longest-serving police chief in Kansas, so says Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who sent along a DVD wishing him well on his service and his upcoming retirement.

Pruitt's last day on the job, incidentally, was Thursday.

Pruitt never considered himself as destined for a job in law enforcement.

"I'd had experience in law enforcement," he said, chuckling, "but on the other side of the badge."

"It wasn't anything serious," he said, adding it was little more than pranks.

Pruitt grew up in Cloud County, where his father was a farmer. He attended Kansas State University, where he obtained a degree in agricultural economics.

"I came out to Hays and opened a insurance office of Northwest Mutual," he said. "I decided it wasn't want I wanted to do."

That's when a position for a patrol officer came open on the Victoria police department.

"I said, 'I can do that until I decide what I want to do,'" he said days before his retirement from his office in Victoria.

He now knows what that is.

"I decided I want to retire and play golf," he said.

Pruitt had considered retiring a year ago, but he wanted to give Cole Dinkel — the incoming police chief and an officer whom Pruitt hired — a bit of experience before leaving.

"It just felt right," Pruitt said of his decision now to retire. "The hours and stuff were starting to catch up with me."

With a two-man department, the hours can be overwhelming.

"You're either working or on call half of the time," he said.

Soft-spoken, Pruitt didn't want to make a big deal of his retirement or the accolades he received for his tenure as the longest-running chief in the state.

"I don't know it as a fact," he said, but that's what the governor said.

Pruitt was honored at a reception April 27, when the comments were made by Sebelius.

His retirement also attracted area legislators and KBI Director Bob Blecha, a former special agent from Hays, as well as Victoria residents.

Pruitt said there was no single instance in his career that stands out.

"We haven't had any murders," he said. "Of course, we had an attempted murder."

But that was 10 or more years ago.

Instead, he said, there simply have been a lot of small-town problems.

"I recall a lady calling and wanting me to come out and take care of her dog problem," he said.

Of course, there weren't any dogs.

"So I said, 'Get a broom and I'll hold the door open,'" he recalls telling the woman. "'You sweep them out the door, and then I'll close it.' "

Problem solved.

Pruitt said Victoria still unlocks cars as a courtesy to the town's residents.

"Because there's nobody else over here to do car unlocks," he said.

Underage drinking is and always has been a problem.

"The way it's handled has changed over the years," he said.

Pruitt always approached law enforcement with common sense.

"I always believe if a warning did the same as a ticket, I'd give a warning," he said. "I told a person once I never give somebody a ticket. If they got a ticket, they earned it."

Pruitt enjoyed his term as police chief, other than the long hours.

"The people have been good here," he said. "I've treated them with respect, and I think it's been returned."

Technology has been a benefit, he said, adding he's had a cellular phone for about 25 years now — although the first one was bulky and heavy.

"It allowed us to do our own dispatching," he said. "For the first 15 years, the police phone was in my house.

"It could get old."

As for the future, Pruitt is looking forward to golfing, visiting more with family and likely will do a little prisoner transport work for Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin, whose first street experience came in Victoria.

He also expects to be named Victoria's municipal judge.

He'll also get the chance to spend a bit more time with his wife, Carla, who has retired as a school teacher.

"Our biggest problem is we've only got one golf cart," he said.

Generally, he said, he plays golf at Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course, as well as playing in several tournaments.

He has a single-digit handicap, which is considered quite good.

He's also planning to take up landscape painting again.

"I have some home projects I want to do," he said.

Bottom line though, golf is critical.