Dennis J. Nordfelt: Looking at the Law As a Highway Patrolman

“Dennis J. Nordfelt: Looking at the Law As a Highway Patrolman,” Ensign, July 1986, 61–62

Dennis J. Nordfelt: Looking at the Law As a Highway Patrolman

Late one night, a young highway patrol officer received a call to investigate a serious accident with several injuries. Arriving on the scene, he found a father and his fourteen-year-old son lying near the road beside their demolished automobile. The father was apparently unconscious, and the boy was writhing in pain, his leg twisted in an unnatural position, a splintered bone sticking out from an ugly thigh wound.

After administering first aid to the father, the officer began to splint the boy’s leg. The procedure was painful, so he asked, as standard policy, if the boy had any questions.

“Most people would ask for something to kill the pain or something to bite on,” explained the officer. “But this young man looked me in the eye and asked, ‘Are you an elder?’ When I said I was, he continued, ‘Then will you give me a blessing?’”

The young officer quickly searched the gathering onlookers for another elder and together they anointed and blessed the boy and his father. Both victims survived the horrible ordeal and eventually returned to full health.

Since that incident fifteen years ago, Dennis J. Nordfelt has risen through the ranks to become the highest-ranking officer in the Utah Highway Patrol. Years of watching people suffer the consequences when they or others break the law has given him an acute appreciation for the laws of obedience and repentance.

“Nearly every accident I have investigated was caused by someone who broke a law,” explains the veteran of Utah’s highways. “That is why I don’t regret any traffic ticket or warning I have given.”

Dennis’s upbringing in rural southern Utah was marked by an ingrained respect for the importance of obedience to the gospel. After serving in the East Central States Mission, Dennis returned home and married a childhood friend, Glenda Carlson. Not long after their marriage, he was called to teach a temple preparation class. One evening the newlyweds were visiting at the home of a class member, who was a sergeant in the highway patrol. “I mentioned that it had been my intent since I was fifteen years old to go into law enforcement. The sergeant happened to have a highway patrol application at home which he encouraged me to fill out and submit.”

His law enforcement career almost became the shortest on record. “The day I submitted my application, my elders quorum president, who was a trooper for the highway patrol, was shot while on duty.” But the story turned out well on all sides: the elders quorum president recovered from his wounds, Brother Nordfelt went on to a successful law enforcement career, and the highway patrol sergeant and his wife were sealed in the temple at the conclusion of the class.

One evening just after sundown, Officer Nordfelt stopped a car just leaving the Church Office Building for driving without headlights. The driver turned out to be President Spencer W. Kimball, then the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. After a few minutes of conversation, Dennis simply warned the Apostle of the dangers of driving without headlights.

“President Kimball then offered me a few words of advice. He said, ‘Officer, if I was wrong, don’t let who I am or what I am influence you or persuade you not to do your job.’ I assured him that in a similar situation, I would have given any other driver the same warning and not a citation,” Dennis recalls.

As a stake president, a former bishop, and as a law enforcement officer, Brother Nordfelt has had many opportunities to counsel with individuals who have broken laws. Although his words are not the same in the different settings, the gist of his message is. “When laws are ignored or broken, suffering, pain, and even death can result. Happiness comes from living in accordance with the law.”

Although he doesn’t usually mention the Church while on the job, occasionally the opportunity presents itself. Once he delivered a warning ticket to a young man hitchhiking on the freeway, which is against the law. The man told him he was a college student from Florida, where he had been taught the missionary discussions. He couldn’t believe that people would actually live the gospel principles, so he had come to Salt Lake City to see for himself.

“He had spent several days just walking around town ‘watching Mormons,’” Dennis recalls. “He had even spent several hours observing people coming and going from the Church Office Building. I finally asked him about the results of his experiment. He said he was headed home to be baptized.

“That gave me the opportunity to bear my testimony, and before I left him, I gave him a Book of Mormon to read on his way back to Florida.”

“I have never regretted either my choice of career or my activity in the Church,” Brother Nordfelt says. “I have found a great deal of satisfaction in serving and helping people. To avoid heartache and pain, we all need to live in accordance with our country’s laws. That is even more true for the laws of the gospel, because our eternal lives depend on how well we follow the Lord’s laws.”

Photography by Eldon Linschoten