COLUMBIA – Thirty years ago, a young Tom Dresner was an MU journalism student. He knew then that he was going to be either a journalist or a police officer.
After spending some time reporting at the Missourian, his career goals became clearer.
“I didn’t want to be stopped at the police line tape,” Dresner said. “I didn’t want to ask someone else what was going on.”
Dresner started as a Columbia police officer on Sept. 4, 1984.
“I made that decision a long time ago, and I have never regretted that choice,” he said.
Dresner, 50, announced his retirement from his position as deputy chief after 26 years with the Columbia Police Department.
“I think it was just time," he said. "Twenty-six years is over half of my life, and it’s been a rewarding career.”
Dresner plans to officially retire Dec. 17. He is using some leftover vacation days until then, so his actual time on the job has already ended.
Dresner began his career with the Police Department at 24 and worked as a patrol officer and property crimes detective for nine years.
In 1993, he was promoted to sergeant and supervised the Fourth Squad, which assigned officers to do saturation patrols to combat crime in the central city. He was promoted to captain in 1998 and supervised the Administrative Support Division. Dresner was the SWAT team commander from 2000-2009 and served as interim police chief for nine months before Police Chief Ken Burton arrived.
Dresner said being interim police chief was the most challenging time in his career. During that time, he handled a Taser incident in which a man suffered injuries by falling off a bridge because he was shocked twice with Tasers. He also had to deal with the the “Hickman High School YouTube brawl” from October 2008.
“That is what solidified my decision to not seek to ever become a permanent chief,” Dresner said. “It was the longest nine months of my life.”
He said he was pleased when Burton came in as the new chief because the two of them get along very well.
Burton will pick Dresner’s replacement. He could not be reached for comment but said in a news release that he has enjoyed working with Dresner.
"Working with Tom during my transition over the past several months has been invaluable," Burton said. "He possesses a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge and is a talented manager. I wish him the very best in his retirement."
Dresner’s favorite work at the Police Department was being a part of the SWAT team.
“Joining the team in 1988, eventually becoming its commander and being able to have such a wonderful interaction in solving the city's most difficult problems was the most rewarding," he said.
After he retires, Dresner said he plans to look for a job in the private sector, possibly something in the firearms industry, given his long association with the SWAT team.
He chose to retire now so he can receive his pension and look for further employment. He said the greatest earning power is now. Although city officials could not be reached for a precise number on the value of Dresner's pension, he said it would be less than $50,000 per year.
Columbians might still see Dresner flying his powered paraglider over Columbia. It's one of his favorite hobbies.
“You basically strap a lawnmower to your back and go flying,” he said. “It’s the closest to being a bird that there is; my feet are the landing gear.”
His feet are steering him in the direction of a new career, but he won’t forget his time as deputy chief. “I just wanted to thank the citizens of Columbia for all of their support, and I’m still going to be around.”