Retired sheriff: Media ‘hinders’ recruitment, but police must ‘maintain high standards’

Retired Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom said police departments are "better off running short" than filling their openings with unqualified candidates.

Matt Bostrom, retired Ramsey County sheriff (photo provided to Alpha News)

Matt Bostrom spent 34 years in law enforcement before retiring in 2016 as Ramsey County sheriff. He joined Liz Collin this week to discuss the downturn in recruitment numbers across police forces and give encouragement to officers.

Bostrom fears the main issue turning people away from policing is the lack of encouragement from family and friends.

Bostrom’s father became a St. Paul police officer after a cop he knew encouraged him to join the force. He ended up quitting his sales job and pursued a career change to become a cop.

“It started because there was a police officer on the beat, saw something special in this guy, and said, ‘You should be a police officer,’” Bostrom said. “I don’t think police officers are doing that very much anymore.”

Bostrom said within households today, parents are actually discouraging their children from becoming police officers, pointing their kids to other jobs with less “drama.” This is concerning to Bostrom, who knows many cops who entered the field through connections and encouragement from others.

While chiefs and sheriffs do have a responsibility to recruit, low numbers are no fault of their own, he said. Personal connections are the driving force behind recruitment, and that is not happening to the same degree it once did, according to Bostrom.

The media also continues to “hinder the recruitment” of police officers, Bostrom said.

“If people see it often enough, they’ll think the exception must be the rule,” Bostrom said, referring to use of force incidents that some don’t agree with.

One primary goal for departments is to increase trust between communities and police forces.

“Cultural competence, servant leadership, emotional intelligence, and high character. Of those, overwhelmingly, the piece that people talk about the most and emphasize the most as far as police and community trust is the character of the police officers,” Bostrom explained.

Bostrom said the one thing not to do is “just fill spaces.” Just because there is room for 20 police officers doesn’t mean a department should hire 15 candidates if they are not qualified.

“You are better off running short. That’s been my experience,” said Bostrom, who now runs an organization called Center for Values.

He advised police departments to “maintain the high standards that all of our communities desire.”

Bostrom believes now is a good time to get into policing, with advancement and opportunities that weren’t available 30 years ago.

“Hire for character, train for competence, and stay with that,” Bostrom said.

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Rose Williams
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Rose Williams is an assistant editor for Alpha News.