First woman to spend career with Marshalltown Police retires

T-R PHOTO BY EMILY BARSKE - Sgt. Melinda Ruopp poses in front of a Marshalltown Police vehicle. She retired on Sept. 16.

Her heart wants to stay, but her body says it’s time to go.

Sgt. Melinda Ruopp officially retired from the Marshalltown Police Department on Sept. 16 after working for the city since 1988. In her last days with the department, it hadn’t really sunk in that she wouldn’t be coming back to her position this week. Departing made her sad, but she said she’s not as well equipped as she used to be to deal with high risk.

Law enforcement always interested her — she watched COPS on TV and listened to the scanner. It wasn’t until she saw an ad in the paper that she decided to work in law enforcement. Ruopp left her position as manager at the first Wendy’s in town to work as a dispatcher.

Dispatch was much different than it is today with advancements like computers in the squad vehicles so you can see where all the officers are located. At the time, she assumed she’d finish her career in dispatch.

But then she wanted more. She realized she was only getting the start of the story with dispatch, but wanted to help be a part of what happened next. She became a reserves officer while she continued to be a dispatcher.

It was a good way to test out whether she wanted to be a cop. It turned out she did.

In 1995, she went through the academy to become an officer. She wasn’t the very first woman at the department, but she stayed the longest.

Ruopp is the first woman to complete a career as a cop with MPD. Today there are six female officers.

Ruopp said she hasn’t ever felt being a woman made things more difficult in her work in law enforcement. In fact, she said it was sometimes an advantage. Sometimes those being arrested would refuse to cooperate with a male officer, but would go with her.

“I always felt 100 percent supported and accepted,” Ruopp said. “I never felt anyone was holding me back.”

She said she hopes she set a good example for others in the department. She clearly showed signs of leadership because Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper promoted her to sergeant.

Tupper said Ruopp has “a heart bigger than this building,” but she’s also a tough cookie. She’s not afraid to tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.

Her empathetic yet realistic personality is ideal in law enforcement when you’re working with people in some of the worst of circumstances.

“I’ve cried with people and I’ve made people cry,” Ruopp said.

There is certainly an emotional toll that comes with being a cop. She said the toughest part was dealing with crimes like drunk driving or homicide that led to unnecessary loss of life. The emotional roller coasters sometimes meant not getting any sleep or needing to sleep for 24 hours.

“You have to learn to leave it here,” she said. “It sounds easy to do, but it’s not.”

Despite dealing with so many hard circumstances, she said she believes there are very few truly evil people in the world.

A K-9 legend

Many in the community may know Ruopp because of her work with MPD’s K-9 unit. She was instrumental in maintaining the unit and was one of the well-known faces in the community as she brought the dogs to public showings.

“My heart is and always will be with the K-9 unit,” Ruopp said.

Ruopp was a dog handler for the department for the better part of two decades. The job is nuanced. The dogs are just like another tool on their belts, but they’re a tool that think on their own. They’re another life to protect and there are complex regulations for using them. Not to mention you have to be physically fit to work with them.

But beyond her K-9 work with the department, Tupper said she is a legend on the national scale. Ruopp has served in leadership capacities for the entire country.

A legacy

Tupper said some in law enforcement might wonder if they’ve made a difference during their career. It’s evident she has, he said.

“Her legacy is secure here.”

Ruopp isn’t leaving the department entirely. She’ll be going back to her roots and helping out as a reserves officer.

Tupper said she helped train those who will be fulfilling her duties. Officer Casee Veren was promoted to sergeant and Lt. Kiel Stevenson will be taking over K-9 duties.

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Contact Emily Barske at

(641) 753-6611 or ebarske@timesrepublican.com