From flight attendant and martial artist, she’s now St. Paul Officer of the Year

·3 min read

Before Brianna Kisch began patrolling the streets of St. Paul, she’d taken to the skies as a flight attendant and placed in worldwide martial arts competitions.

Finding her path to law enforcement was a long road.

Kisch joined the St. Paul Police Department almost four years ago and she’s already receiving recognition.

The department recently selected her as Officer of the Year for her role in a variety of cases over the span of a year, including convincing a woman who was armed and talking about suicide to turn over a gun, putting the pieces together to apprehend a shooting suspect, and evacuating residents from a burning apartment building.

Kisch also was one of the first responders to arrive to a West Seventh Street bar shootout last fall that injured 15 and killed a woman, who Kisch attempted to help.

“She has the natural ability to take charge at chaotic scenes and could be relied upon to make calm and collective decisions under pressure,” her supervisor, Sgt. Kou Yang, wrote in recommending Kisch for the award.


Kisch grew up in Eagan until she was 13 and her family moved to a 10-acre hobby farm in Henderson, near Belle Plaine. She was home schooled and, to earn her physical education credits in high school, Kisch said her parents made her go to taekwondo classes.

“I hated it for the longest time and then, all of a sudden, something clicked and I thought, ‘This is so much fun.’ ”

Kisch is a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo, and placed second in the world in sparring in 2008 and third in extreme martial arts in 2007.

She finished high school in 2005 and already had a year’s worth of college credits. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

She taught martial arts full time and became a flight attendant — following in her mother’s footsteps — for about four years. She returned to instructing martial arts and worked in retail management.


When she was a flight attendant, pilot John Johnson told Kisch about his father, who retired as a St. Paul police sergeant.

Johnson thought Kisch would be well-suited for law enforcement because of her martial arts background.

Plus, “she can command an airplane or anything and she does it with, like, grace,” he said recently. “If a passenger gave her a hard time, she would very nicely put them in their place without even letting them know they got put in place.”

Kisch said she thinks that comes from being the oldest of eight kids — “I was always bossing my siblings around,” she said.

Kisch went to college and worked in security and loss-prevention jobs along the way to earning her degree. She was in her early 30s when she became a St. Paul officer, and she feels her age and background in a variety of jobs have given her both perspective and life experiences.

The work has already changed since Kisch joined the department in 2018 — between the coronavirus pandemic, attention to law enforcement practices in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and concerns over gun violence — but she said she still loves being an officer, especially in St. Paul’s Central District, where she works overnight shifts.


Being named Officer of the Year is “a huge honor,” Kisch said. She said everything she was recognized for were team efforts with the officers she works with.

In the annual department awards, Sgts. Amber Larson and Jeff Schwab were honored as Detectives of the Year for their work on a quadruple homicide. Police say four people were fatally shot in the West Seventh Street area in September and their bodies were found in a vehicle left in a Dunn County, Wis., cornfield. A man is charged in that case.

Michele Bunce was named Civilian Employee of the Year. She manages the department’s $120 million budget and oversees grant management.

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