The Woodbury Public Safety Department has been a steady presence in the community nearly as long as the city itself has existed. Founded in 1968—just one year after Woodbury Township became the city of Woodbury—the department has grown and changed alongside Woodbury. As they prepare to celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary, the officers who make up Woodbury Public Safety look both back and ahead with gratitude, happy to have the chance to help make Woodbury such a wonderful—and safe—place to live.
Lee Vague | Public safety director and police chief
Public safety director and police chief Lee Vague joined Woodbury Public Safety as a patrol officer in 1989. “I’d love to say that it was some higher calling, but at the time, it was a job,” he says of his motivation. He had worked as a community service officer at the airport and had an offer to join the Minneapolis Police Department before the opportunity in Woodbury came along. “I had a decision to make [and] for me, it was just kind of looking a little bit to the future and having as much vision as a 21-year-old could have—figuring out what was going to be the best fit for me, what’s a city that I can grow with and hopefully that will grow with me.”
Woodbury was ultimately the clear choice, and Vague says that he hasn’t looked back since. “It’s been such a good match. What an amazing thing to be able to see, to be a part of a city that has been so vibrant and grown.”
As Woodbury has grown and changed over the years, so too has Woodbury Public Safety transformed. “When I first started, we had a police department and a fire department, and we had an ambulance that only ran basic life support,” Vague says. All emergency services were combined in the mid-1990s, which has proven to be both a cost-saving and a life-saving change. “Now, I can’t imagine working in a place where the police department is here and the fire department is over here,” Vague says. “We’re all together, which is nice. We train together; we work together; we know each other. We work together on the small stuff, so when the big things happen, it’s a lot easier.”
He says that these days, he spends more time responding to emails and filling out paperwork—“pretty much the opposite of all the reasons I joined law enforcement. I didn’t want to have something where I was just going to be in an office behind a desk all day, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years,” he jokes. He is proud to stand behind the officers, firefighters and paramedics who have devoted their lives to serving Woodbury.
“My job every day is to come to work and support the men and women who are actually doing the real work,” he says. “Our product is people, and our job is service. I understand that I’m not the main event—when you call 911, I’m not the one coming to your door—so my job is to make sure that the people who are there are well-trained and well-selected and that we’re working really cohesively.”
Change is integral to the agency’s model of policing. Vague says that it is “almost near constant change. If you think you’ve got a model and know what things are going to be like in five years, you’re probably wrong, because it’s definitely going to change.” But he says that’s one of the things he enjoys the most about his work. “If you’re not good with change, if that makes you uncomfortable, then this is going to be a challenging place to work. But if you kind of enjoy that, it’s a lot of fun.”
Omar Maklad | Sergeant
While the agency has certainly changed throughout the years, adapting to cultural shifts and new technology, its fundamental values and mission haven’t. That’s what sergeant Omar Maklad likes best about his job. “Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen the city grow, and I’ve seen our agency change, but one thing I’ve noticed is that our values stay the same. [Woodbury] has still got a hometown, farm town feel,” he says. “We could get all these shopping centers, hotels, all these stop lights, but the values we have within our agency and in our community have stayed the same.”
Among those core values, Maklad says, is an emphasis on community and connection. “We like to stay connected and really know our neighbors,” he says. “If you look at some of the history books, you can see the volunteer constables that went to local gatherings where they’d have a dance or something like that, and they’d just be there to socialize. We do the same thing here. Whenever there’s an event, we’re not necessarily there for security. We’re there to meet with people and connect with them.”
This emphasis on truly being a part of the community sets Woodbury Public Safety apart. “I think it’s different than some of the larger agencies, where you’re running call to call. Here, you have the opportunity to stop for a second [and] meet the people that we work for and connect with them,” Maklad says. “We want to talk with you, even when it’s not an emergency. If we’re in line for coffee together, we want to have a conversation with you. We’re not closed off from our citizens.”
Maklad started police work at an early age. His first exposure to the field was back in high school, when he enrolled in the Police Explorers program. “We met once a month to learn about different topics—how to arrest, how to investigate different crimes, things like that.” He had also been considering becoming an engineer but realized he preferred being out in the community to being in a cubical for eight hours a day. Thanks to Police Explorers, Maklad learned at an early age that police work was “exactly what I wanted to do.”
For Maklad, Woodbury has proven to be a great place to live and work, and he especially appreciates the work-life balance that Woodbury Public Safety provides. “I have no inclination to go anywhere else,” he says. “I like knowing that I can stop home for lunch and see my kids to tuck them in at night, and I like knowing that if I did have an emergency, I always have my partners behind me.”
Ashley LaValle | Patrol officer
Patrol officer Ashley LaValle is relatively new to Woodbury Public Safety. She served as a police officer in Forest Lake for eight years and came to Woodbury last year seeking new chances to grow. Woodbury’s strong reputation, not only within the Twin Cities metro but also throughout the state, drew LaValle to the new role.
“I knew a lot about their leadership and how people really enjoy working here,” she says. There are just a lot more opportunities in Woodbury. The agency is a lot bigger, and they’re a very progressive department, which was attractive to me.”
For LaValle, the unique structure of Woodbury Public Safety makes for an especially rewarding job. She especially appreciates how easily she can pursue what she’s most interested in, both professionally and personally. “There are a lot of different passions that people have, and we feel really supported as far as what area we want to go into,” she says. “And, there’s a lot of mentorship here, too, so really feeling like there’s a lot of follow-through with people and setting the officers up for success here has been really nice.”
Although she has much ahead of her, LaValle says that she sees herself spending the rest of her career in Woodbury and with the agency. “I hope to retire here,” she says. “There are just so many opportunities all across the spectrum.”