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Breakout Session Three:  Building a Culture of Connection- law enforcement and mental health

While there has been a connection between law enforcement and mental health, the murder of George Floyd amplified the need for that connection to be more intentional.  Hear from four individuals who have spent their lives and their careers working to protect individuals and their communities, how the summer of 2020 influenced the creation of the Justice System Consortium (JSC), and how they are looking at their work and their roles in community from a different perspective.   

Presenters:  Jode Freyhotz-London, Bert Brandt, Chief Jim Exsted, and Chief Mike Bestul

Jode Freyholtz-London is the founder and Executive Director of Wellness in the Woods, Minnesota’s largest mental health consumer organization. Jode lives in Todd county Minnesota a few miles from where she grew up on a dairy farm. She has her AA in Business Management from Central Lakes College and a plethora of life experiences in her portfolio.  Her vocational life includes human service in senior living, coordination of a rural detox unit, 15 years in supported employment, housing support, mobile crisis and crisis stabilization services as well as her present identity of social instigator, advocate and mental health educator. 
Wellness in the Woods has a staff of 40 individuals and 7 board members all of whom identify as having a lived mental health experience. WITW began in Mar of 2013 with a dream of being a voice for individuals with mental health challenges and advocating for improved services with a focus on rural MN. Jode is an Advanced Level Facilitator for the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, Mental Health First Aid trainer, Emotional CPR trainer, Suicide prevention trainer and proficient public speaker across Minnesota.  She was chosen as the Rural Health Hero of 2017 by the Rural Health Conference Committee.

Bert Brandt is a certified peer specialist and certified peer recovery coach. Born in southern CA, Bert grew up in an environment filled with substance use.  By the time he was in his early teens, drug use had already impacted his life and a myriad of Adverse Childhood Experiences created a foundation for decades of struggles. Bert has been a guest at numerous correctional institutions in several states.  Bert presently lives in Duluth where he is celebrating 7 years of sobriety and recovery. 

Bert is the lead for the Hope on Purpose program where he works within corrections including Crow Wing co jail, Lino Lakes and Oak Park Heights incarcerated individuals create their WRAPs. He is involved with children’s ministry and loves antique shopping and reaching out to support communities to learn about human trafficking.

Chief Jim Exsted has been a member of the Baxter Police Department for 27 years, serving as Chief of Police for the past 18 years.  Chief Exsted graduated from Crosby-Ironton High School and then went on to attain a BS Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University.  Chief Exsted also worked briefly as a Crow Wing County Water Patrol Deputy, a dispatcher and at the juvenile detention facility prior to being hired in Baxter.

Throughout his tenure as Chief in Baxter, Jim has been a part of numerous local collaborations ranging from traffic safety to human trafficking.  He and his department were honored in 2021 at the MADD Enforcement Agency of the Year with several officers earning personal acknowledgements as a part of that honor.  Other notable accomplishments include the organization and implementation of a local human/sex trafficking coalition, partnerships and leadership rolls pertaining to the Brainerd Lakes Toward Zero Deaths Coalition and his work in recent years with the newly established Justice System Consortium. 


Chief Mike Bestul has been a member of the Brainerd Police Department for 24 years, serving as the Chief of Police since January 2021.  Chief Bestul started as Patrol Officer and then assigned as a Drug Investigator with the Lakes Area Drug Investigative Unit until being promoted to Investigative Sergeant in 2004 and Deputy Chief in 2010.  Bestul started his career with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department in 1990 as a Water Patrol Seasonal Deputy and then hired as Dispatcher in 1993.  In 1995 Chief Bestul started as Crow Wing County Deputy and worked in that capacity until September 1997 when joining the Brainerd Police Department. 

Chief Bestul graduated from Brainerd High School in 1986 and enlisted in the US Army after graduation serving in active duty until 1989 and active reserves for the remaining 8-year commitment.  Bestul attended Brainerd Community College (CLC) receiving an AA/AAS in Criminal Justice and attended Hamline University afterwards.

Chief Bestul has been committed to the serving the citizens of Brainerd and all of Crow Wing County while being employed as a Brainerd Police Officer.  Chief Bestul is a past Board member of Brainerd Community Action and PORT for Boys and Girls, and numerous other organizations during his tenure.  Chief Bestul’s most recent accomplishment while working with Justice System Consortium bringing “Fishing with Cops” event from a dream to reality with all our local law enforcement partners. 

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