DWU grad Hedrick brings diverse thinking as Rapid City Police Chief


RAPID CITY — Don Hedrick was nearing graduation from Dakota Wesleyan University in 2002 with little inkling about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

A last-second encounter drastically changed all of that.

Hedrick received a call from his adviser that a recruiter from the Rapid City Police Department was on campus. The recruiter had already left town, but Hedrick placed a call. He turned around and drove an hour back to Mitchell to meet with Hedrick.

Eventually, Hedrick made a few trips to Rapid City to check out the department and he has been there ever since, steadily rising through the ranks and it culminated with being named the Chief of Police on Aug. 18, about two months after being named interim chief from the departure of Karl Jegeris.

“He came back just to meet with me and it impressed me that somebody would do that,” Hedrick said. “That led me to go to Rapid City a few times, I jumped in a police car and I was hooked. I knew that this was a profession that I wanted to be a part of.”


Hedrick arrived at DWU from Lakefield, Minnesota, to play offensive line for then-head coach Joe Kramer, but his original intent was to study biology. He would go on to achieve minors in biology and psychology, but he was also taking classes in criminal justice.

The diversity in his course load would spill into his career in law enforcement as he rose up the ladder in Rapid City. Hedrick spent his first seven years as a patrol officer, then became a detective, a first-line supervisor and eventually the assistant chief.

All the while, Hedrick has continued to return to school. He obtained his master’s degree in 2007 from the University of South Dakota and has taken several classes in Lakota history, as well as language courses at Oglala Lakota College.

In May, Hedrick was accepted into the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as one of 58 people to receive a Bloomberg Fellowship to pursue a doctorate in public health.

He completed his first online class this summer at the prestigious Baltimore-based school, and his duties with the department limit the amount of time he can put into the program, but Hedrick anticipates completing his degree in the next five years.

“I will be able to connect with professionals all over the nation and see what practices are best being utilized,” Hedrick said. “Being in a position to bring those best practices and procedures back to South Dakota is a benefit for everybody.”

Hedrick will concentrate his studies on health equity and social justice and how violence impacts those areas. He already has experience in such issues after helping spearhead the department’s Quality of Life Unit in 2018.

The unit’s goal is to help those with substance abuse issues and mental health issues receive treatment for the underlying cause of addiction rather than disciplinary action through jail time, while also addressing issues prior to law enforcement response.


“It’s not a traditional function of police work, it’s more of a social-work type of thing,” Hedrick said. “Currently, the police department is doing that, because nobody else is. We don’t have social workers going out on the street and connecting with our homelessness people. If we have people that want to defund programs, we want to make sure we have other services in place prior to cutting programs.”

As Hedrick embarked on his fellowship to study social justice, such issues have sparked nationwide protests and he has taken control of a police force at a time when law enforcement is under the watch of the public eye like never before.

But he is hoping to use the diverse experiences throughout his law enforcement career to help the Rapid City Police Department adapt and evolve as the needs of the community continue to change.

“I think if we are going into a hotspot area and using policing to address the crime there, I think we also have the ability to combine that with outreach,” Hedrick said. “Finding out what else is important to the people we’re out there serving and working with in that specific hotspot.”

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