'I want to humanize the badge,' St. James welcomes new police officer Eric Gruninger

Sean Ellertson
New St. James police officer Eric Gruninger.

Last week, the St. James Police Department welcomed another brother to the blue with the hiring of Chicago native Eric Gruninger.

Gruninger cites his dad, also a police officer, as his early inspiration to be involved in law enforcement.

"My dad was a cop growing up. My earliest career ambitions— back when I was five, six, seven— were to work in law enforcement in some capacity."

Later, Gruninger became interested in natural resources and went to college in the Twin Cities with a goal to work for the Department of Natural Resources.

The police academy that Gruninger attended was run by the National Park Service, graduating in the winter.

"With COVID-19, it effectively shut down all the parks when all the parks were going to start hiring new people so that opportunity went away."

Gruninger hopes to hit the ground running and get acquainted with the residents of St. James.

"I just want to be known as the community policing officer. I want to get out with people and get to know people. I worked a couple of summers as a park ranger with the DNR at a few of state parks and my favorite thing to do was to talk to campers, see where they're from, what they want to see and give them recommendations. I just love talking to people."

"Especially in this day and age, I want to humanize the badge again. Just show that we're human, we care about you."

Gruninger hopes to earn the trust of the St. James community and change the persona surrounding police officers.

"Just being human with people. Cops kind of have a reputation of being robots and not caring as much. That's what I strive for, to be human with people."