As Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Kathy Wuorinen looked around a group of young officers recently, she told them she never forgot about her time patrolling the streets years ago.
Wuorinen worked about 34 years in law enforcement. She rose through the ranks of the St. Paul Police Department and spent the past 8½ years as assistant police chief.
Police Chief Todd Axtell calls Wuorinen a trailblazing officer.
She was the first female homicide investigator in St. Paul. And in 2016 she was tapped to serve as interim police chief for two months, marking the first time a woman led the city’s police department. Wuorinen said it was the highlight of her career.
“Not only did you open the doors for so many to follow … you kicked that door open and it is still open today,” Axtell said to Wuorinen at a recent ceremony. “… You just never took ‘No’ for an answer. You just dug in and you worked your tail off.”
Axtell noted the police department has nearly 100 female officers now, but says they still need to find ways to hire more.
Wuorinen retired Friday and Rob Thomasser took over as assistant police chief.
Wuorinen sat down with the Pioneer Press recently to look back at her career. She said she would recommend the job to other women and talked about what she wishes people understood about officers. Her interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
When you started, you were a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy in 1985 and then a St. Paul police officer in 1988. Tell me about those early years.
Exciting, fun. It seems like most of my life was in law enforcement. I started right when I was 21.
After the police academy in St. Paul, one of my field-training officers was Nancy Smolik. She showed me that you didn’t have to be huge and big and strong to do this job.
She showed me the value of the skills that women bring to this job — communication, talking people down, not rushing in.
I was looking at some old newspaper articles and I saw you were on the job for less than a year when a driver pointed a handgun at you and pulled the trigger twice. What happened?
I had only been out of field training for two weeks. A car was coming towards me in my lane and weaving and speeding, and so I thought, “Oh, drunk driver.” I turned on my lights and siren and the car pulled over.
I noticed the driver opened his car door and I knew right away that was a red flag, so I pulled my gun out. I was watching him, watching him and then he threw the door open and he turned and he pointed his gun at me. I’ll never forget — it was right at center mass and it clicked and it clicked again. And he’s looking at the gun like, “Why isn’t this working?”
I ran towards the back of the car because we were trained to go for cover and I fired back at him. He drove off and I pursued him, calling out on the air what had just happened. At a dead end, the two occupants bailed out. I ran after them, but we did not find them.