Darren Juntunen walked into his first day of work at Moose Lake Police Department headquarters Monday, June 1, and found an environment that was both familiar and foreign.
Twenty-five years ago, Juntunen took over the Moose Lake Police Department, leading it for four years. He left for a job with the Minnesota State Patrol, a position he retired from in January after 21 years.
He was tapped for the top job with the MLPD for a second time in May after former Chief Bryce Bogenholm resigned at the Jan. 8 City Council meeting. Bogenholm had been on medical leave since September 2019.
Juntunen still lives in Moose Lake with his wife and thought there was an opportunity to make a difference in the community they’ve called home for many years.
“They asked me if I would consider coming back, and I still care about what happens in the community and live around here so I thought I would probably be a good fit for a while anyway,” Juntunen said. “I think I can make a difference and the big thing in coming back for me is I wanted to make sure that we bring the officers, their training and the policies up to date and ensure they meet society's changing needs.”
Moose Lake Mayor Ted Shaw said Juntunen’s mix of experience and familiarity with the community made him the ideal candidate for the job.
“Mr. Juntunen just had the most experience in all the elements we were looking for,” Shaw said. “On any job, you want to go for the most qualified person. Based on his background, the jobs he’s done, the training he’s had, the experience he’s had make him a great choice. Plus he was the chief back in the mid-90s, so he knows our community.”
Juntunen returns to a very different department than the one he left in 1999.
The budget has tripled since his time leading the MLPD, and policing has also changed drastically. Advancements in technology have altered the way police departments operate. Furthermore, the calls for police reform have never been louder, particularly in Minnesota, where George Floyd died during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers.
“Look at what's currently going on here with the Minneapolis situation and nationwide — there has to be accountability,” Juntunen said. “And again, it starts probably from the top on down to make sure they have the training and we're doing it right. If something's not being addressed, it needs to change.”
One of the biggest things Juntunen wants is for his department to become involved in and get to know the community where they work. It can take decades to build trust in a community and a single instance to wipe it all away, he said. Juntunen believes the protesters’ voices need to be heard — though he doesn’t support the destruction that has come along with it — and hopes the result can be an “honest conversation” between law enforcement and the public about rebuilding a trust that’s been lost.
In his career as part of the MSP, Juntunen said he had been shot at and 80% of the unit he supervised had been involved in shootings.
“I'm no stranger to that kind of stuff,” he said. “But then again, you can always still no matter what assignment or task ... you can still do the job and be respectful and treat people well. I think that'll always come back.”
It is typically a difficult time for most people when they are interacting with law enforcement, he said, and the best thing is to try to treat them with compassion and respect.
“When people are in that time of need where they're calling law enforcement is probably something that's pretty bad or something that's a life changing event for them,” he said. “If you can be there to ease that and make that situation go better for them, (it) kind of adds that human part back into it.”