Public unrest across the country and locally about police use of force is leaving a stamp on St. Paul's search for a new police chief.
A job posting that went live online Tuesday for St. Paul's next police chief listed a host of criteria and then asked candidates to write essays about three topics, starting first with this one: "There have been a number of recently highly publicized issues involving use of force by police officers around the nation. Please discuss your philosophy regarding use of force by the police and investigations regarding police use of force (appropriate investigative body, transparency, timing, independence of investigators versus internal department investigations, etc.)."
The last two times the city looked for a new chief -- 2004 and 2010 -- use of force by officers didn't come up once in the essay questions, which instead focused on candidates' leadership experience, fiscal responsibility, collective bargaining skills and work to increase diversity, among other topics.
St. Paul's search to replace Chief Thomas Smith, who plans to retire mid-year, comes at a time of upheaval, with activists across the Twin Cities calling for more transparency into officer-involved shootings while Black Lives Matter protestors regularly shut down the interstate, city streets and public transportation in a growing movement that has swept the nation.
Tuesday's job posting could be a tacit admission that those voices are being heard.
"What does community engagement and community policing mean to you?" read the second essay question. "Describe how you have demonstrated these philosophies in your job and the impact or success as a result of your work."
The third and last question asked candidates to reflect on effective strategies to reducing the rate of shootings, homicides and other violent crimes. Absent are essay questions about candidates' "labor-management collaboration in a collective bargaining environment" and "How do you organize your work and that of your employees...?"
Tuesday's job description was undoubtedly crafted long before its posting, but it happened to debut on the heels of a recent controversy in St. Paul that's grabbing local and national headlines for piercing straight to the marrow of police-community relations.
A St. Paul police officer was placed on paid administrative leave after a citizen police watchdog, Andrew Henderson, called police Saturday to complain that the officer allegedly posted a Facebook comment encouraging drivers to run over marchers from St. Paul and Minneapolis who converged on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, in the middle of the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue bridge over the Mississippi River.
The demonstrators called for justice for Jamar Clark and Marcus Golden, who were fatally shot last year by Minneapolis and St. Paul police, respectively.
"Run them over," the alleged police officer's Facebook comment said in part. "Keep traffic flowing and don't slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street."
The comment appeared in the Facebook comments of a Pioneer Press article about the march.
Henderson said that the officer in question was Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker, and that he posted and then removed the comment under the name "JM Roth." Henderson said he's had several exchanges with JM Roth, who identified himself as Rothecker.
St. Paul police can't reveal the name of the officer involved due to legal protections in personnel matters, but confirmed that an officer had been placed on leave due to Facebook comments, which police didn't specify. Police and Mayor Chris Coleman issued statements Monday condemning the Facebook post.
St. Paul Police Federation attorney Chris Wachtler has confirmed that the federation is representing Rothecker.
"We are unable to provide any additional detail and ask that the media and public allow our members the due process and privacy afforded under the law," said a statement the federation released Tuesday.
Matthew Hagen, president of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police, said Tuesday that Rothecker resigned Monday from the organization's board of directors. Rothecker was elected to the board in April 2015, and was supposed to serve a two-year term.
"The Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police does not condone the Facebook comments allegedly made by former 2nd Vice President Jeff Rothecker regarding a recent Black Lives Matter protest," said a written statement from Hagen.
The Facebook post and its author remains under investigation, but in response to a data request, police released Rothecker's personnel file Tuesday, showing that he has had 15 complaints filed against him with the department's internal affairs unit. Seven of the complaints were sustained.
Records show that Rothecker has been disciplined or received oral reprimands for: A preventable squad accident in 2014 in which he failed to yield, twice improperly accessing non-public government data through Drivers and Vehicle Services, failing to check on an inmate at the county law enforcement center who was injured during an encounter with an off-duty officer in 2008, hitting a post with his squad in 2007, investigating but failing to collect a severed dog head left on a doorstep in a gift-wrapped box in 2007 and getting into a preventable squad accident in 1998 during which he did not turn on his siren.
"Your actions reflect poorly upon you and have brought additional scrutiny to police officers of this department," said a 2010 letter regarding Rothecker's response to the injured inmate. "As a sergeant, your actions in this instance showed a lack of respect and poor judgment. Your failure to lead has brought embarrassment to the department, was an extremely poor example for those you were trusted to supervise, and has impacted careers of officers you were responsible to protect."
Rothecker's personnel file also includes seven letters of thanks or commendation from the public, former police chiefs William Finney and John Harrington and Ramsey County Adult Mental Health. Rothecker began training with St. Paul police in 1993, was assigned to the central district in 1994 and now serves as a sergeant investigating crimes against the elderly.
Rothecker is among the 615 sworn officers and 157 civilian personnel the new police chief will oversee in a department with a $109 million annual budget.
Tuesday's job description for the six-year post called for applicants who are "a bold leader, seasoned administrator, and effective manager." It listed a host of expected qualities ("commitment to engaging a diversity of community," "high performance standards," "increasing diversity") and then asked for a very 21st Century candidate who is "well-informed regarding key issues in 21st century urban policing and committed to remaining up-to-date on trends, research, and technology relating to urban policing and public safety."
The post will pay $114,483.20 to $160, 600 annually depending on experience, with a benefits package. Applications are being accepted through Feb. 17, with initial interviews tentatively scheduled for mid-March.