Public Safety

Linn County's new chief deputy looks back on 25 years of service

Growing up in a small town in northeastern Iowa, 46-year-old Doug Riniker watched his father work all day in a factory building furniture and told himself he wanted to do something different.

“You know, I watched my dad go to work every day and make furniture, and that was his whole life. It was the same thing day in and day out,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that — my dad had a good job and he worked hard — but I wanted to do something more interesting.”

And that turned out to be a career in law enforcement.

“I just felt like law enforcement was something that would be interesting and that gives me the ability to help people, and that appealed to me,” Riniker said.

Freshly out of high school, Riniker enrolled at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo where he studied criminal justice.

“I felt like it just fit,” he said. “It was interesting and different, and I liked that it was challenging.”

In 1995, at age 20, Riniker started his career with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and spent his first six years working in the jail.

“I think I learned a lot in that environment,” he said. “In the jail, you really have to know how to communicate with people in all sorts of situations. You have to learn how to deal with conflict in a way that de-escalates the situation, and that’s something you learn in the jail and it will help you out on patrol later.”

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After six years, Riniker bid out of the jail and into patrol, and from there, “I really started working my way up the food chain,” he said.

Riniker transferred to the patrol division in 2001. Five years later, he was promoted to sergeant and went back to the jail as a supervisor.

When Sheriff Brian Gardner took office in January 2009, he promoted Riniker to the rank of major and appointed him to be a second deputy, during which Riniker was directly responsible for the finance division and oversaw the civil division.

All the while, Riniker continued his education, earning a master’s degree in public administration and completing a 10-week professional development training program through the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.

Most recently, Riniker — who is now a colonel in the sheriff’s office — was promoted to chief deputy, replacing longtime sheriff’s office employee Col. John Stuelke who retired after 38 years on the force. Riniker started his new position July 1.

“Col. Riniker’s experience and previous leadership roles within the sheriff’s office will serve him well as he becomes the second in command of the agency,” Sheriff Brian Gardner said in a statement to The Gazette.

An Iowa native, born and raised in North Buena Vista, just outside of Dubuque, Riniker said his years on the force have taught him a lot about people and interactions and life.

“I’ve practically grown up in the sheriff’s office,” Riniker said of his 25 years on the force. “You know, I grew up in a small town of only a few hundred people and, I don’t want to say I was sheltered, but life is different in a small town. And I started with the sheriff’s office when I was 20 years old and worked in the jail, so I had a lot to learn. But it has definitely been a good experience for me and I’ve gotten a lot of life experience here.”

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And it’s those life experiences — those opportunities to learn, challenge himself and help people — that drive him to get up every morning and go to work.

“I have a lot of sayings,” he said. “But one of the ones I use the most is that old saying, ‘If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,’ and I really do believe that. I truly enjoy what I do. I just feel like, as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’m not working and that’s how I feel most days.”

Over the years, Rinker said he has watched as public perception of law enforcement oscillated between trust and turmoil due to the actions of what he called “a few bad apples” — most recently with the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota Black man who died in police custody when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

The incident has sparked weeks of nationwide protests and demands for law enforcement and criminal justice reform.

But despite those challenges, Riniker remains optimistic about his profession and the communities he serves.

“I feel like law enforcement overall, you know, we get held to a high standard, and that’s the way it needs to be because of the trust that we hold within the community,” he said. “You know, whether we’re working or we’re off duty, we are expected to do the right thing and I think a majority of the men and women in our profession are good people who are trying to do just that.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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