“Be sure and take care of yourselves.”
With those words Sgt. Patrick McKenna, 52, said goodbye to the officers and dispatchers he had worked with on his last day of patrol. He also bid farewell to the police department he had served for 27 and a half years.
McKenna finished his patrol Wednesday. The Idaho Falls Police Department released the recording of his final goodbye.
“Dispatch will miss you,” one person can be heard saying over the radio.
“Enjoy your retirement.”
“We’ll miss you. Be safe.”
More calls came in with goodbyes for the officer who spent more than half his life with the department.
“We’re very happy for him,” Police Chief Bryce Johnson said. “He’s moving on to happy pastures.”
The Post Register chose to feature McKenna because of the variety of experiences he’s had in his long career. He’s helped protect a president and a king, worked to arrest sex offenders and investigated one of the most heinous crimes in the city’s history.
In January he was one of two officers involved in a fatal encounter with a violent suspect that left the suspect dead.
McKenna started at the Idaho Falls Police Department in 1990, a time he says was less busy.
“I was 24 years old, had a young family, and was just a young kid coming in to make a difference in the community,” McKenna said.
For McKenna, his career choice was between being a police officer or a firefighter. When the police department offered him a job, he made his choice.
Since then he’s watched his job change as records became digital, computers migrated to his car and his revolver was replaced with a semi-automatic pistol.
Now, however, he hopes to move on to a life with more free time to enjoy golfing.
Patrolling with a partner
For 18 years McKenna worked as a patrol officer, and worked as a K-9 handler for 15 of those years.
His first and primary dog was Rusty, a Belgian Malinois that served with McKenna the longest.
Rusty was trained for both apprehension and explosive detection, and helped catch several suspects without a bite, McKenna said. Their biggest find was 240 sticks of dynamite in a warehouse on Lindsay Boulevard.
McKenna cared for the dogs as family. A sad moment in his career was when Chucky, his third dog, had to be euthanized after a tumor was found on his heart.
“You spend 10 to 12 hours a day with them in the squad car and you take them home with you at the end of the shift,” McKenna said. “They’re a part of your family.”
McKenna and Rusty provided security for multiple VIPs during those 12 years, including former President Bill Clinton, then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and King Hussein of Jordan. Rico did the same for former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Most of the VIPs were passing through Idaho Falls airport on their way to somewhere else. McKenna said Clinton and Hussein were both heading to Jackson, Wyo., where the airport was too small to accommodate their planes.
Working to protect Clinton, in particular, involved heavy coordination with the FBI and the Secret Service.
“We would screen everything before it went on the plane,” McKenna said. “So all the luggage, everything that was coming on from the staff that was flying with them. We would search the airport tarmac anywhere around the president.”
From patrol to detective
After 18 years on patrol, McKenna moved to the detective unit, focusing on major crime scenes and crimes against children.
During his time as a detective, McKenna worked on the Angie Dodge murder case. Dodge, 18, was found dead in her apartment in 1996 after being raped and murdered.
McKenna wouldn’t discuss the case because it remains under investigation.
Another major case McKenna investigated was the molestation of three girls by Jeffrey Dunn, who was accused of raping the children over a six- to eight-year period. Dunn was convicted in 2013, but was given a new trial after the Idaho Supreme Court ruled the jury should not have been told of his previous conviction. Dunn was convicted again last year and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
McKenna spent his final year back on patrol after he was promoted to sergeant. Six months ago he and another officer were responding to a suspicious person call that turned deadly when the suspect, Shane McVey, charged them with mace. The other officer shot and killed McVey, setting off a two-month investigation.
McKenna dislikes discussing the incident, deferring to the department’s official release. He spent two weeks on paid administrative leave.
“I was worried about my guy, my officer and the situation that he was put into,” McKenna said. “I was also worried about the McVey family. I knew them growing up as a child.”
Looking back and looking forward
McKenna’s job was something his family “had to deal with it,” whether by helping with the dogs or accepting that he would sometimes have to run out in the middle of the night.
He said his family was supportive of his career, but it did take its toll in the form of two divorces. Despite the difficulties, McKenna says he’s been happy watching his sons grow up. One is attending Harvard University to be a doctor while the other runs a business in Boise.
“They’re very hard workers,” McKenna said. “I’m pretty proud of them.
Investigating crimes against children gave McKenna sympathy for the victims. He was a founding board member for Building Hope Today, a charity that aims to educate the public about child sex abuse and grooming techniques used by sex offenders. McKenna said helping to start the foundation was his proudest achievement.
“Because of this job and because of the field that I was in, I had the opportunity to sit on this board and help start this foundation,” McKenna said.
McKenna plans to move to Spokane, Wash., where he’ll return to his dog-training roots to prepare a K-9 unit for a local hospital.
As he leaves, McKenna gave advice to new officers joining the department.
“Have fun,” he said. “Enjoy your job, and when you go home at the end of the night, leave your job at work and enjoy your family. They grow up quick.”
Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.
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