Growing up as the youngest of 10 children in Cascade, Steve McElmeel recalls two moments that shaped his decision to pursue a career in law enforcement. Those moments were indeed important, as McElmeel, now a sergeant in the correctional center with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, was recently honored as its “Deputy of the Year.”
The first of McElmeel’s pivotal moments came in church. “Most people in Cascade know that Dave Dolphin was once the chief of police for Cascade,” McElmeel said. “Dave was also raising a large family at that time, much like mine. I felt honored to be sitting in the pew at church next to the chief.”
That was coupled with some sage advice his mother, Mary Jo, gave him. McElmeel said his mother and father, Eugene “Huey,” raised their kids on a foundation of faith and being a hard worker. “My mother told me at a very young age that, ‘Life is about others, not yourself. As soon as you make life about yourself, you will invite trouble to your doorstep.’ I still hold onto those words very dearly.”
After graduating from Cascade High School in 1988, McElmeel attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport on a football scholarship. He earned degrees in criminal justice and psychology, and then graduated from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in Johnston.
“I started out in the correctional center, and was a 13-year member of our Immediate Response Team that had specialized training in high-risk search warrants and recovery of missing persons,” McElmeel said. “We trained for everything, but I sometimes felt fortunate not having to respond to all of the things I was trained for in a law enforcement career.”
McElmeel also spent 15 years in the patrol division as an accident reconstructionist in motor vehicle fatalities, and became an instructor for active shooter awareness to help prepare people on how to respond to an armed intruder. “An additional class I instruct at our department is called Blue Courage,” said McElmeel. “This class is a guideline to assist police officers on how to deal with stress. Statistics reflect that police officers die 10 years earlier than the average life expectancy. Working long hours, not always eating the best when you’re always on the go, or seeing unspeakable situations you are involved with start to have a long lasting effect on the body and mind.”
The award took McElmeel by complete surprise.
“I was nominated by a deputy that I had worked with in the jail prior to him leaving for the patrol division,” McElmeel said. “I was completely blindsided when I was presented the award. I felt humbled but more, I felt honored. This decision was made by a selection committee that reviews information about the nomination. I know the people involved in law enforcement have very demanding jobs. I felt so honored receiving this award because I know there are a lot more people in uniform, or not involved in this vocation, that make a personal commitment in making a difference in others. McElmeel’s experience has taught him how to balance the good with the bad of law enforcement. “Having human interaction in the worst moments of a person’s life are typically tough conversations,” he said. “There is always the flip side. I stay focused on the important things that are positive. My faith has helped me maintain that perspective. I was likely able to learn some things about wisdom growing up, due to having seven older brothers and two older sisters. It definitely gave me a solid foundation and preparation for what I do.”
McElmeel lives in Linn County with his wife and family.