Brainerd police chief talks ‘bad apples,’ challenges of local law enforcement

McQuiston answered a host of questions, many of which pointed to criticisms of systemic racism and law enforcement practices across the nation.

Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston (middle-left panel) addresses a Zoom conference of the Brainerd Lakes Area chapter of the League of Women Voters. McQuiston walked attendees through many operational aspects of his law enforcement agency and answered a host of questions on the rigors of the hiring process for police officers, their training regimens, guidelines for use of force, psychological evaluations, diversity initiatives, as well as general morale among the force and in the Brainerd lakes area community at large. Screen grab.

In a teleconference peppered with looks behind the proverbial curtain and inquisitive questions by attendees, Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston tackled the problem of “bad apples,” examining the issue from a host of different angles.

With the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and subsequent crackdowns on protests and riots by police across the country, law enforcement’s role in modern society has been heavily scrutinized — and, in many American communities, received quite a bit of criticism.

The League of Women Voters’ Brainerd lakes area chapter hosted a Zoom conference Thursday, June 19, in which McQuiston was invited to speak on the internal workings of his department and attendees were encouraged to ask questions. These questions often reflected the current climate, with queries into the rigors of the hiring process for police officers, their training regimens, guidelines for use of force, psychological evaluations, diversity initiatives, as well as general morale among the force and in the Brainerd lakes area community.

McQuiston Photo
Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston. Brainerd Dispatch file photo


By and large, much of the discussion dealt with how police look to address “bad apples” in law enforcement.

Yes, it has to be remembered that police officers are only human, McQuiston said, but he also acknowledged the vital relationship and trust that needs to be maintained between law enforcement and their communities — not only as a professional duty by law enforcement, he said, but to uphold a social contract in which both sides must participate for it to work.

“Without the public's trust and confidence, we're not effective,” McQuiston said. “We can't be if people won't report crimes to us. Criminals recognize that there's not a good relationship with the police and the public, and they tend to take stronger roles in those communities that don't have good trust and confidence with the police department.”

Communities like Brainerd expect police officers to be competent, professional and unbiased agents of the law, McQuiston said, and that's a tenet of law enforcement Brainerd officers seek to uphold with every interaction. This is a key part of any modern training regimen officers adhere to, he noted.

“It really gets to the core of treating people with dignity and respect, conspicuously demonstrating fair and unbiased decision-making, giving people the opportunity to be heard. … They call that a dialectic dialogue approach that focuses on conveying key messages and allowing and receiving input from others,” McQuiston said. “I think community members, based on that, they expect us to be competent. They expect the police to have lawful behavior, they expect fairness, impartiality, unbiased decision-making, respectful and dignified treatment. I can't stress that one enough.”

While McQuiston was quick to point out how supportive the community is of law enforcement — whether that’s through donated pastries, Hallmark cards or even gifts of cash (which are all submitted to the city of Brainerd) — he was also candid about the current state of the department. With 21 officers — 19 men, 2 women and zero officers of color — under his supervision, McQuiston assessed the morale of his officers as “OK,” noting this was a general state of affairs long before the current climate.

It’s an environment of long hours and heavy employee burnout, he said, which leads to a high turnover rate. If an officer takes time off, he said, this often requires their colleagues to work overtime, which is further exacerbated by frequent resignations and a hiring pool that seems to grow a little more shallow every year.

McQuiston said officers aren’t as likely to stick it out in law enforcement as a long-term career and there seems to be fewer candidates who can pass the city’s hiring process and fewer applicants in general. This only adds more and more pressure for officers on the job, he said, who are asked to do more and more in their communities.


In terms of hiring, candidates go through a psychological screening by a third-party firm, a thorough background check, drug testing, medical examinations and are subject to review by an independent panel of community members on the Civil Service Commission before they can be hired, said McQuiston, who estimated, on average, the city considers about 20-30 candidates. As a result of stringent review, often top applicants aren’t able to pass the city’s hiring process.

McQuiston noted he’d like to see female officers and officers of color, as well as high standards in terms of college education, but often this isn’t feasible with the pool of candidates and the department’s ever-pressing needs.

In terms of training, McQuiston noted officers undergo hours in emergency vehicle operation, proper use of force — for example, ensuring a framework of verbal and nonverbal communication has been adhered to before making physical contact — as well as small arms and rifle training, crisis management, de-escalation training and mental health certifications.

There’s been an evolution toward nonviolent means of resolving situations, said McQuiston, drawing on over 30 years of experience.

“We really try and incorporate scenario-based real life training. A while ago it seemed like our firearms training (was) all we did, was go to the range and shoot at a target and use the verbalization, ‘Drop the gun,’ but we never trained our officers to not shoot,” McQuiston said. “Now, more and more, we're challenging officers to draw their gun, but to recognize no-shoot situations.”

In that vein, he pointed to figures that 65% of the general public and 81% of African Americans believe police engage in racial profiling — a statistic that’s prompted law enforcement to implement extensive anti-bias training, McQuiston said, as well as place an emphasis on public communication and transparency by these same agencies.

“It just demonstrates that police have to do a better job at sharing with the public that we don't do racial profiling, listening to the public's concerns about that, and helping to try and find some common ground and address it,” said McQuiston, who pointed to crisis management funding as a proven means to curb negative outcomes in police interactions.

As a supervisor who’s had to discipline officers for this kind of misconduct, McQuiston said the employment framework in law enforcement does, sometimes, create situations where toxic officers can’t be removed from their positions or reprimanded to the degree they should be.


“It's really hard for us to stomach or for us to deal with because it’s like a marriage, where one side of the marriage wants to get a divorce, but the judge says, ‘No, you're gonna stay married,’” McQuiston said, turning to an oft-used analogy. “The police chief, the community, can say, ‘This officer, we don't want them working here or he isn't a good fit for our community, our agency.’ And through arbitration, they say, ‘No, he gets his job back.’ And it's really difficult for the agencies to move forward, for the communities to move forward. That needs to be changed.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

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Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

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