A sergeant with the North Dakota Highway Patrol said the ultimate goal of a law enforcement officer is to provide public safety, save lives and retire safely.

“I think an important part of that is the patrol has been good at a professional level with ensuring that we have the right training and equipment,” said Tom Herzig, North Dakota Highway Patrol motor carrier operations sergeant.

Herzig, who is originally from the Minot area, has been with the North Dakota Highway Patrol for more than 29 years. He worked his first five years at a weigh station learning commercial truck regulations and doing inspections according to the federal Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance standards.

In 1997, Herzig was accepted into the Law Enforcement Training Academy, which is run by the patrol, in Bismarck to become a trooper where he did 25 weeks of training.

His first posts were in Steele and Medina with the remaining 27 years in Jamestown. Herzig has worked as a traffic trooper for about six years, a K-9 handler for about eight years and regional traffic sergeant for about 10 years before becoming motor carrier operations sergeant.

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He is also a member of the North Dakota Highway Patrol Honor Guard that honors law enforcement officers who lost their lives during duty.

Herzig said he wanted to get involved in law enforcement because his family was friends with a couple of troopers, who he is still friends with.

“I always respected their level of professionalism … and thought that it would be out of reach for me,” he said. “The more and more I was around not only the initial couple of troopers that we knew as friends, I became friends with a couple of other road troopers and became impressed with how they all are everyday people. They too have families and are good folks.”

He went to college and applied with the patrol. He said he worked night shifts at a weigh station while he was going to college.

Herzig has had opportunities to transfer to other posts in the state, but he said he felt he would lose the direct connection that he has with the Jamestown community.

In his role as motor carrier operations sergeant, he spends half his time on the road working with troopers and helping with regional goals of truck inspections, overall truck safety and safety presentations.

“I'm happiest when I'm out with a driver walking around the truck,” he said.

Herzig said motorists traveling through the state are from other areas of the U.S. or Canada and he serves as an ambassador for the state.

“And it is all about traffic safety and reducing traffic fatalities and removing the criminal element off the road,” he said.

Herzig said commercial truck traffic is a regulated industry as part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and he ensures that truck equipment meets the standards.

“If it doesn’t meet the standards it is placed out of service until the repairs are taken care of,” he said. “Not only the truck itself needs to meet standards, but the drivers need to be fit to ensure that they are not working too many hours, that they’ve had the proper rest and that they meet driver qualifications to drive that … commercial vehicle.”

Tom Herzig, North Dakota Highway Patrol motor carrier operations sergeant, inspects a semitrailer according to Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun
Tom Herzig, North Dakota Highway Patrol motor carrier operations sergeant, inspects a semitrailer according to Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun

He said technology has changed in traffic and commercial vehicles since he first started. His first vehicle with the patrol was a two-wheel-drive Crown Victoria that was OK on power at the best compared to the current vehicles with the patrol that are all-wheel drive, have twin turbos, excellent handling and are very fast.

Some commercial vehicles such as semitrailers did not have front brakes or antilock brakes, would gel up in extreme low temperatures and cabs did not have air-ride systems on the suspension systems, making it less comfortable for drivers, he said.

Now, semitrailers have front brakes that are mandatory, antilock brakes, disc brakes, air-ride systems throughout the semitrailer and automatic transmissions that are becoming more popular. He said it is rare for a commercial vehicle to gel up in minus 20 temperatures.

Electronic logbooks are now required instead of using paper logbooks and that change makes the data much more accurate, he said.

“The truck in motion starts the driver’s record of duty automatically and stops it when the truck stops,” he said. “The driver doesn’t have to manually enter in a grid form for his daily work activity and it is very accurate.”

Herzig said working out west during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests was one of the biggest challenges of his career. He said he was away from home missing family events to ensure that people had the right to protest safely.

“My strong faith, my strong wife support and son support and a handful of current and former law enforcement essentially made the difference,” he said.

He said he could not be in law enforcement without the support of his wife and son.

“They bring the reason and they recenter the compass to when something is tough and difficult such as the protests, such as the long stretch of 30-below weather and a severe blizzard coming through the area or the unknowns through arrests that take place,” he said.

Another challenge working for the patrol is notifying a family of a death, which Herzig said he has done a handful of times. He said each time is unique because people react differently and have their own story as a parent or of the person who is deceased.

“I can visually remember each fatal crash scene and every encounter with the loved one and their response,” he said. “Each scene has its unique time of day, sight, smell, public interaction, public reaction on scene and death notification. I've become friends with a couple of families that lost their loved ones. I can tell you the day of the month that a fatal crash happened and think of them when that time nears.”

Herzig said the most rewarding part of his career is the public interaction. He learned from a colonel 20 years ago to make each encounter with the general public better for them in the end.

“No matter what it is, if it is assisting at a crash scene, if it’s assisting with a flat tire, if it’s issuing a speed citation, make the encounter better in the end,” he said.

Herzig said he likes how the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center is big enough to house multiple law enforcement agencies but small enough to require officers to know and rely on each other when assistance is needed.

One word of advice Herzig said was to be professional.

“You can almost ride your entire career on that one word (professional),” he said. “It is about remaining professional. Saying the right professional words, doing the right professional things.”