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What makes a good officer? RPD faces recruiting challenges

RPD vehicle in downtown Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) - Police reform has been a huge topic of conversation since the death of George Floyd in police custody back in May.

Even before this, police departments had been struggling to recruit new officers. Captain Jeff Stillwell of the Rochester Police Department
says that the death of George Floyd has played a significant role in finding new officers in the Med City.

"We did have some real good candidates drop out of our process because they were reconsidering the whole police profession," said Stillwell.

However, Captain Stillwell is confident that he has found eight new officers that will be ready by the fall.

"Not as many candidates but the candidates we are finding are more committed to making a difference in the profession and the city of Rochester," said the captain.

Rochester is a city that is very diverse. The police department hopes to recruit this diversity by focusing less on job experience and more on life experience.

"We hired a police officer in the last several years that spent time in a homeless shelter. I can't train what it's like," said Stillwell.

RPD's first male minority officer retired this year but provided a similar unique background, coming from Cambodia as a refugee.

"Those values that he has are much of what we're looking for," said the captain about Officer Hwat Lou. "A work ethic and a desire to make this place a better place."

Officer Lou has this advice for new recuits.

"Just focus on your task as a police officer and your image," said Lou. "You're trying to represent yourself and your police department."

In his 27 years on the job, Stillwell says he has built positive relationships with people he arrested. He advises new officers to have empathy and to not take themselves too seriously.

"You will make differences in people's lives and change people's lives for the better," Stillwell said. "Every day you'll have another opportunity to do that."

The captain hopes to create a diverse department that not only serves the community where his grandkids live but has a positive culture within.

"To be the example," he said. "Set the example for what 21st century policing looks like in a mid-size police department."

Captain Stillwell believes mentor programs for young officers can help them with the struggles many face in their first years.

He adds that recruiting new officers is very much focused on retaining potential talent from the Rochester community, meaning increased outreach to middle and high school students.

Alex Tejada

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