After 3 decades in policing, Bestul is ready for new adventures
Bestul's last day as Brainerd Police chief is June 2.
BRAINERD —Though he is far from hanging up his boots, Brainerd’s Police Chief Mike Bestul decided to hang up his badge after working as a peace officer for over 30 years.
“Let's face it, you got to keep going,” Bestul said. “I mean, to think you're going to sit at home and read a book and watch TV all day, that's probably not bad for a few days, maybe even a week, you know, but that's really not in our DNA.”
Bestul's last day with the department is June 2. Current Deputy Chief John Davis was named to replace Bestul as the city's police chief.
Born and raised in Brainerd, Bestul grew up attending the local elementary schools and graduated from Brainerd High School in 1986. Looking at college as more of a novelty back then, Bestul said his family grew up without having money for someone to go to college, so he joined the U.S. Army right out of high school.
“Turned out to be probably the best thing I ever did in my life was to go in the military and learn some structure, learn respect,” Bestul said.
Completing his active duty contract in 1989, Bestul found himself back in the Brainerd lakes area where he made a friend in former Sheriff Todd Dahl, then a sergeant with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office. Bestul said Dahl spurred him into becoming involved in law enforcement, eventually joining the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department dive team.
In 1990, Bestul not only found his first job with law enforcement as a non-licensed water patrol deputy, but years later he would realize he found his dream job.
“It was just a great job,” Bestul said. “We go out, people are having fun, everybody's out having fun and you had to do your job, but it was the first time where … I kind of came into understanding law enforcement, saying, this isn't all like the movies, about how we're going to be arresting people or gonna be doing this. But really, it's about the community. People are having a good time and you just want to keep them safe. You know, that's really what we do. We keep the people safe — the people who employ us — we keep them safe.”
Bestul said he credits his time with boat and water patrol for showing and giving him a purpose in life, where he would enjoy being out in the community and working to keep others safe.
I feel that I could walk out the door, just like many before me have left and say, ‘You know what, they'll be just fine.’
He received a criminal justice degree from Brainerd Community College, now known as Central Lakes College, and then went to Hibbing Community College for police officer skills training.
Bestul remembers the difficulties in trying to find a job during the early ‘90s. Driving to Grand Rapids for an opening in their department, he remembers having the doors closed before he was able to apply as they already had over 500 applications for the one open position.
As he continued to seek employment in law enforcement, Bestul became a 911 dispatcher for Crow Wing County in 1993. He was able to beat out a cafeteria full of applicants in 1994 to secure a part-time position with the Breezy Point Police Department. In 1995, after some retirements within the department, he became a Crow Wing County Sheriff’s deputy.
During the 1990s, the Brainerd Police Department was in the same building as the sheriff’s department. Though he enjoyed his job, Bestul found the lull in-between calls and covering a large area in the county to be more draining than enjoyable.
“Different responsibilities in different areas. Some people like to be able to roam and get out there and do all those things. I wasn't able to go back to the water patrol unfortunately,” Bestul said. “In September 1997, I went across the hallway. I went from brown to blue and I've been here ever since.”
Bestul said he liked the pace of working in Brainerd as opposed to the large size of the sheriff’s office, though he always told his wife he would never move up in rank, as he always loved the position he was in.
“I always said, ‘You know, honey, I'm going to be a patrol officer for the rest of my life. That's where I'm going to be,’” Bestul said.
“And she says, ‘You'll be a sergeant someday.’
“I got to be a sergeant. I said, ‘You know what, that's all I'm going to do, this is the best job ever. It's all I want to do.’
“‘I think you're probably going to move up from there,’ she said.
“When I became deputy chief, OK, that's all I want to do. I want nothing to do with being chief.
“And she said, ‘You know, you'll eventually be the chief.’”
And Bestul eventually proved his wife right, becoming Brainerd’s police chief in 2021. Some people tell him 55 is a bit young to retire, but Bestul always wanted to leave things better than when he found them.
“I feel good about leaving,’” Bestul said. “I feel that I could walk out the door, just like many before me have left and say, ‘You know what, they'll be just fine.’ And that's really what I want to do, is to leave knowing that when I walk out the door, that the next day or the next minute this department is going to keep forging on and providing great service that we have always provided to the citizens and to the Brainerd lakes area.”
Helping the community along, with a drive to start each shift not knowing what the day will bring, draws many into the job, though Bestul said it takes all sorts of people to make up a department. Some love patrolling the street while others enjoy the investigations — no one person is perfect for every job, he said.
Though much has changed, Bestul is proud of the changes made to help officers with their mental and physical health, along with recognizing their efforts monthly since February 2021 with the “Bestul’s BOOYAH Award.”
The Booyah Award is used as a way to recognize police department employees for outstanding work, focusing on the holistic “team approach to be the best organization we can be by realizing that every staff member is appreciated, respected, and valuable,” the police department reported. The nomination comes from fellow officers, their supervisors and even community members, Bestul said.
The whole thing, full circle. It's been just a great career, you know.
Being police chief means you are responsible for the department and all of its officers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Bestul said. “I can't say that this is an easy job, but I can say that I'm very proud of where we're at today,” he said.
Looking back at what he was most proud of during his career, Bestul said officers are always going to recall those big arrests or drug busts but he is proud of the community he works in and how they support law enforcement.
“I grew up watching the police respond down Oak Street and me running out to the edge of the road where my parents still live today,’” Bestul said. “The whole thing, full circle. It's been just a great career, you know. It's been one of those deals where I'm proud to be a Brainerd officer and proud to be a police officer.”
As his kids grew up, Bestul remembered asking each one of them what their purpose in life is, encouraging them to find and follow their dreams.
“And so my wife, who's smarter than I am, says, ‘What's your purpose when you retire? Because you can't sit around here. When you wake up in the morning you have to have something to do,’” Bestul said. “So for the first six months, I'm going to golf, I'm going to fish, I got some to-do lists around the house. Just enjoy the summer and go hunting and all that kind of stuff. I think I can last for six months. Then I'll have to have a purpose.”
Bestul said he has never woken up and dreaded going to work, which is how he figured he would know when it was time to retire. That it never happened makes retiring that much more difficult. Bestul said he will miss the job, but he really likes golfing and fishing as well — hopefully more.
TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .