Corporals represent new direction for Brookings Police Department

Four new corporals at the Brookings Police Department represent the future of policing, Police Chief Michael Drake said. From left are Dustyn Engstrom, Jacob Vukovich, Austin Kreutner and Luke DeJong. (Mondell Keck/Brookings Register)

Change aims to make agency more responsive

BROOKINGS — Brookings now has four new police corporals, and Chief Michael Drake hopes their ascent will usher in a new era for the Brookings Police Department.

The corporal rank is new to the BPD. Drake said its implementation is meant to help make the department more responsive to its needs, including more opportunities for progression and training for its staffers.

“The commitment that these gentlemen made to get this rank … it’s not about just a self-pride or what they get, a self-indulgence,” Drake said in an interview with the Brookings Register. “What it really comes down to is they sacrifice because  they love the profession, because they believe in what they do every day."

The new corporals are Dustyn Engstrom, Jacob Vukovich, Austin Kreutner and Luke DeJong.

“It gives me pride that I can represent myself and the police department in this position,” Engstrom said. “This position was created for the officers that I get to work with, that I am going to be an experienced individual and I can help them … to make their jobs easier at the (BPD) by providing them with assistance, by getting them to trainings, by getting them equipment, helping them on calls for service. Kind of just being a tool and a resource for them to serve the customers of the community better and make our job more efficient.” 

Kreutner shared his thoughts as well, including that every day is unique.

“Being a patrol officer moving into corporal, I’m looking forward to continue to learn more about this community, learning more about this profession and continuing to grow, continuing to learn, continuing to bounce ideas off of everybody,” he said. “You can always learn something new every single day. This job — there’s never a day that’s the same. There’s always something new. Just to continue to learn, that’s what I’m taking (the) most out of this process — just trying to become a better police officer and a better public servant to the community.”

Department benefits

There were multiple reasons for implementing the corporal rank to the BPD. 

“The idea … was brought about due to the nature of the complexity of the department and the CPSM study developing — we needed shift supervisors, more road-level individuals … overseeing the daily operations that happen on any given shift,” Drake explained.

“It (gives) more direct supervision to the police officers by kind of entwining the corporal and the police officer in your daily operations and making it a little closer to the road and road supervision and all the calls for service that were coming in,” he continued. “Then, (it separated out) sergeants so they could really operate on the bigger picture of scheduling, training, certification, administrative functions, internal auditing matters and not as much of the daily operations of what patrol officers do every day.”

Community benefits

The change benefits the community benefits in multiple ways as well, he noted.

“The benefit to the community is one, when you used to call the police department and ask a question or need to know something — or even to complain or compliment — it was always like, ‘Well, the chief won’t be in until Monday’ or ‘We’ll put it through …’ now you get that responsiveness from the supervisors that are working on those shifts,” Drake said. “(They) can respond to things immediately so that we’re not waiting — if it’s a Friday, we’re not waiting until Monday or there’s a holiday. Some of those things can get caught — and being the chief getting pulled in different directions, I don’t always have the attention that I can give to those needs for the community.”

Drake noted that, “The community is getting better customer service, regardless of what it is. The community is getting more efficient and effective and professional policing that’s being supervised now directly by these four corporals who put in thousands of hours to get to this rank by studying and training, and now they’re getting that on-the-job training to be able to give a more professional look to the department and then also give that better customer service to the clients, which are the almost 40,000 people that either live here, work here or visit here every day.”

Financial impact

There were costs, certainly, associated with flattening the BPD’s command structure, Drake said, but most of those were offset by improved efficiencies and financial savings. 

“What we were able to do when I first got here was, when I sat down with the staff, was trying to minimize the actual cost,” he said. “Our budget is extremely lean to begin with. When you talk about public safety — if you go to almost any city in the United States, public safety almost always entirely makes 25 to even 35 percent of the city budget, and that usually incorporates the fire and the police.”

Drake continued, “Here, we’re more like 10 percent, 12 percent with the fire department, us being about 7 to 10 percent of that. … We didn’t want to inflate it too much. What we were able to do is we restructured the entire department. We were able to reassign certain positions and almost flatten out the department instead of being so pure middle, going from the foot soldiers up to the chief and being that real high climb we were able to flatten it out.”

Drake said cost savings were achieved by reassigning the assistant police chief position into a lieutenant position, doing away with a detective sergeant position entirely, and the reassigning of a supervisor position that oversaw dispatch into a lead dispatcher position instead.

“With all that cost-savings, it’s almost negligible the amount of money that they were given — and they were given raises as being corporals — and the process itself cost very little money that the city actually made out by doing this over time … we ended up saving more money in our budget by repositioning and repurposing different ranks and then creating these,” Drake said of the corporal rank.

Long, hard road

Returning to the corporals themselves, the promotion process wasn’t for the faint of heart.

“It was almost like going back to school. The amount of time to sit there and read and highlight — I don’t want to say it took a toll, but it was … you definitely didn’t have the family interaction that you had prior to the studying,” Vukovich said. “Then everything was thrown in a bookbag and brought to work and studied when you could and if you couldn’t … yeah, it was a lot of at home.”

Candidates definitely had to be bookworms and have an appreciation for detail. 

“One of the biggest challenges that went into the process was the countless hours of studying and the material that we were given,” Kreutner said. “We were given material on South Dakota codified law. We were given material on policies within the organization. We were given material on city policies. We were given material on Brookings city ordinances. So the material that we were required to study for and tested on and asked about was extensive. Just the countless hours that we put in to try to earn this rank was a big part of the process.”

DeJong shared his experiences as well. “I did a lot of my studying while on night shift, so it didn’t affect my family time so much,” he said. “On my days off, I would stay on my same shift, so I’d be studying at 2 a.m. when my wife was asleep.”

On top of it all, the officers were working their regular 40-hour-a-week patrol jobs at the same time, along with some overtime. Kreutner offered some perspective on missing things such as birthday parties and family gatherings.

“That’s kind of the thing in law enforcement, though — when you sign up, you sign up to sometimes miss the birthdays, you miss things on weekends and the long hours require you to work holidays,” he said. “Sometimes in this profession, those are the sacrifices you have to make.”

Testing their mettle

Now, let’s throw testing and interviewing into the promotion mix, making an involved process even more exacting for the candidates undertaking the challenge.

“With the testing process in general, it was nerve-wracking, I guess,” Vukovich said, laughing. “None of us had been through that type of testing process here before. It was something different that (Chief Drake) brought from New York that was, and is, hopefully the way everything is going to go from here on out. We found it very beneficial — the whole process with the interviews and the written tests, it was in-depth and I think the way it should be done.” 

Involving outside agencies was a novel approach enjoyed as well. 

“The thing that I appreciated most about this whole process was the fact that we brought in other agencies to the department,” DeJong said, adding that there was an interview portion in the testing process, including being scored on two different scenarios. “ … With bringing other individuals from other agencies, there’s no — people aren’t playing favorites. They don’t know how I operate in the department. They don’t know how I work or anything like that, and they’re not choosing a favorite.

“So I appreciated that most about the whole process, versus how we kind of did it in the past: If you were the favorite person, you got promoted. I like that the best — it was based on solely just how you performed on the test and on how you did on the scenarios,” DeJong said. 

The future

What’s that old saying? No rest for the weary? It’s true, but when the weary have their minds set on achieving a goal, and do so, well, interesting things can happen. And that’s exactly what Drake is hoping for.

“My expectation with these gentlemen as corporals is to build the future of this department so that the community benefits,” he said. “This is the future of the (BPD). Mike Drake is not, but these corporals are. 

“They’re going to get the training and education that they need to develop the policies and procedures for this department to reach accreditation not just for the next three to five years, but the next 10 to 20 years or even 30 years, of what this department is going to look like in the future for our children or the next generation,” Drake added. “It’s exciting stuff.” 

— Contact Mondell Keck at [email protected].