Deadwood’s longest serving police chief to retire

Deadwood Police Chief Kelly Fuller said he is ready to start a new chapter in his life; the city commission regretfully accepted his retirement letter Tuesday night. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson 

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DEADWOOD — For 17.5 years, Kelly Fuller has headed up law enforcement in Deadwood and April 3 he will retire.

The Deadwood City Commission accepted Fuller’s letter of retirement Tuesday with regret.

“I knew this day was coming. I would say that, chief, you definitely have earned this. You’ve spent a lot of remarkable years and you’re not done yet, so, you’ll get this speech over and over again from every one of us and you should get it from every member of this community,” said Deadwood Mayor David Ruth, Jr. “I think it’s important to note that Chief Kelly is the longest-standing chief of police in the history of Deadwood. So with that, I regrettably say that I understand that you’ve earned it. So, congratulations. Thank you.”

He is the longest tenured police chief in Deadwood’s history.

Commissioner Gary Todd said he would echo the mayor’s comments.

“It’s been a pleasure working with you, to see the department you’ve created over there and hopefully we’ll have a smooth transition to our next episode of the Deadwood P.D.,” Todd said.

Fuller thanked the commission for the kind words.

“Back in 2003, former mayor Toscana and the city commission took the chance on a punk kid. That’s all I was back then. If I told you I knew what I was doing back then, I was lying. So, luckily I had a lot of guidance from other department heads and staff, Mary Jo Nelson and Bernie Williams, and over the years I figured it out,” Fuller said. “Really, it’s been an honor and a privilege. I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing, dedicated professional men and women, both in the police department and other city departments. And I just want to take this opportunity to thank all commissioners past and present and all of our residents for all the support I’ve gotten over the years. I’ve served in this position for 17-plus years. It’s been a dream come true. For a city such as Deadwood with so much storied history, Wild West lore, it’s really been an honor.”

Fuller said that he has certainly enjoyed his long career with the city of Deadwood and that while he is pleased with all aspects of the department, he is ready to start a new chapter in his life and do something different.

“I have no plans at this point,” he said. “But I don’t want to be one of those people who retire and then something happens medically, for example. I want to live life, just enjoy life before it’s too late.”

In total, Fuller has been with the city of Deadwood 24.5 years, being appointed police chief in March 2003 and serving as interim police chief for five months prior to that.

So, what did he love most about his job?

“The thing about law enforcement is it’s something different every day,” Fuller said. “You will never see everything or hear everything, so you can never say you’ve seen it all or heard it all. It’s not sitting behind a desk. It’s out being with people every day and dealing with whatever comes your way. It’s definitely a lot of critical thinking, problem solving, and you’re always facing new challenges, meeting new people, and encountering new issues and solving new issues.”

Fuller said he would definitely miss the camaraderie with both other officers and the community that surrounds his position.

“It can be challenging. It can be frustrating. But all in all, I wouldn’t trade all those years for anything,” he said.

And what he will miss most is “the people.”

“Most of my friends are police officers, so seeing them on a daily basis,” Fuller said. “Also, residents. In almost 25 years, you develop a lot of relationships with people in the community and Deadwood definitely has a lot of colorful characters.”

With nearly 20 years of law enforcement service, Fuller said that technology has changed drastically to crime and, subsequently, to impact the industry.

“The biggest challenge as a department has been to stay progressive, to stay ahead of the curve, determining what is driving trends and criminal patterns, and always coming up with strategies to enhance crime prevention,” he said.

For example, when Fuller started out, Polaroid cameras were still being used to photograph crime scenes.

“When I started as a patrol officer in 1997, I had a camcorder zip tied to the dash of the car,” he recalled. “Today, we’re wearing body cameras. The drug trends we’ve been through have been challenging, as well. We started out with meth, then it was synthetic drugs, and now we’re back to meth. Staying progressive in combating the drug issue has been challenging, as well.”

A major philosophical shift in the police department was implemented by Fuller over the years.

“Community policing has changed and enhanced our role in the community so much,” he said. “To be a positive resource for the residents of and visitors to Deadwood, working with the youth.”

The school resource officer program, as well as DARE, Government Day, coaching, and membership in civic organizations are all supported and encouraged among the police force.

“Even teaching CPR class to casino staff has had a positive effect on our community,” he said. 

In other business, the commission granted permission to advertise for the police chief position in-house for five days and then in the Black Hills Pioneer, if needed.

Fuller said he will help with the transition.

“I wish nothing but the best for the department,” he added.

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