Common Law

Common Law Andrew, Ben and Sam Nelsen By Randy Dockendorf Police officers enjoy a brotherhood, but three members of the local force give new meaning to the term.

Emergency callers can get a response from Officer Nelsen. Or Officer Nelsen. Or Officer Nelsen.

Yankton natives Sam, Ben and Andrew Nelsen are brothers who work law enforcement in Vermillion. Sam, 23, and Andrew, 27, work with the Department of Public Safety at The University of South Dakota. Ben, 25, works with the Vermillion Police Department.

Besides working together in law enforcement, they lived together in the same house for three years. In addition, Ben and Andrew have graduated from USD, while Sam is completing his degree at the school.

For good measure, Sam is engaged to Jacy Henderson, a member of the USD force, who will become the fourth Officer Nelsen.

The three brothers said they each knew they wanted to go into law enforcement, but they never made a conscious decision to work together.

�I pretty much knew I wanted to go into the military or law enforcement, ever since I was young,� Andrew said.

Sam, likewise, planned to enter law enforcement as a youngster. The thrill of the job provided a major attraction, he said.

�Every now and then, there is excitement. It�s one of those things that gets your heart going,� he said. �You get to do stuff that a lot of people don�t do with their everyday job.�

While the three brothers shared a desire to enter police work, they entered the profession in different ways. Sam and Andrew went directly into police work at USD, while Ben held law-enforcement jobs outside Vermillion.

�I originally wanted to go into the Army as an MP (military police), but it didn�t work out,� he said. �I was working at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, and I have also worked for the Lewis and Clark parks as a law-enforcement ranger.�

Andrew said the bond normally felt by police officers has become intensified by their blood relationship.

�We brothers are like our own support group,� he said. �We talk a lot about our work, to relieve the stress as much as anything.�

The familiarity with each other � and the anticipation that goes with it � can become a matter of life or death in a dangerous situation, Andrew said.

�I enjoy the fact that I already know my brothers,� he said. �I have an idea of how they will react, which is an advantage when things get going.�

Because of the nature of their profession, the Nelsens said police officers cannot confide in most outsiders. However, the brothers said their relationship allows them to talk with each other about their work both on the job and at home.

�Ben and I talk about work all the time. It�s hard to get away from it. By nature, you are skeptical of other people,� Sam said. �You work with these people, and you trust them with your life. Even when you�re off duty, you take mental notes.�

Police officers need to maintain their vigilance even at home, and living and working with brothers makes the off-duty aspect much easier, Ben said.

�We know we can trust the other person with guns and duty gear in the house,� he said. �That�s one of the benefits of living with someone else on the force. You have to be careful who you trust.�

While working with brothers has its advantages, it can also cut the other way, Ben said.

�I know if I get in trouble, my brother will try double hard to help me,� he said. �That�s also the very reason it�s hard to work with my brothers. If something happened to one of them, I may need to be at another point. It�s hard to stay and do what I have to do without running to help my brother.�

�We have to put duty before family, which is both a blessing and a curse,� Ben added.

The family affair becomes even more intensified with the addition of Henderson, a Vermillion High School and USD graduate. Henderson already knew the brothers and worked with them before dating Sam.

�It�s odd, all three boys ending up in the same career field in the same town,� she said. �It�s ironic, and then Sam and I are together. It�s almost humorous. We laugh about it here and there, but we enjoy our jobs.�

Because neither of them is a superior officer over the other, Sam said the engagement and marriage will not prevent the couple from working together at USD. And, while their jobs are stressful, Henderson said she enjoys being able to talk with Sam about things at work.

�It�s nice to have somebody you can disclose what you do at work,� she said. �With someone else, you can�t necessarily go home and talk about what you did at night.�

However, the couple also try to maintain a separate personal life from their jobs, Henderson said.

�We very much try to detach ourselves (from work). We really try to get away from it,� she said. �There is a lot of mental stress. People are going through extremely emotional situations, and it�s just as emotional for us. We get away occasionally, and that really helps.�

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