Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher Appears To Be Running For Re-election.
There is still time – less than a month – for candidates to register for the race. But so far no one of note has signed up and it doesn’t look like anyone with serious resources or name recognition will show up.
It would be an uphill battle; challenging incumbents often. But Fletcher is also a controversial figure rounding out a term in which he regularly made headlines for outspoken disagreements with other government officials, and for rocking his Facebook Live show, “Live on Patrol,” in which he livestreams himself as he drives around and offers commentary during service.
Many of Fletcher’s arguments with other county officials revolved around his belief that the sheriff should be given more money. “Especially this year, with the crime wave that St. Paul is facing, he probably has pretty good support right now,” said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. “I think that scared potential candidates away.
Fletcher, who was sheriff of Ramsey County from 1994 to 2011, took over again after winning the 2018 election by 6 percentage points. As sheriff, less than a year ago, he argued with other county officials over funding.
Although Fletcher claimed he inherited budget problems from previous sheriff, Jack Serier, in 2019, Ramsey County Manager Ryan O’Connor predicted Fletcher’s spending on employee salaries would push the county about $2.5 million over budget. O’Connor put restrictions on some of Fletcher’s spending during the year, added rules regarding expenses for expenses such as travel and business expenses, and warned Fletcher to cut his general expenses. By the end of the year, the district manager’s office said the sheriff’s department was $950,000 over budget.
In the winter of 2020, Fletcher sued the Ramsey County Board, alleging that the board cut too much money on the sheriff’s budget as it tried to cut spending in the first year of the pandemic. In August 2021, a judge sided with the county.
County commissioners later voted to send north $860,000 to the sheriff’s department to cover costs related to the unrest that followed the January 6 uprising, Derek Chauvin trial, and Daunte Wright’s death. But that came with criticism from Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who expressed concern that Fletcher was using county funds for things outside of the money’s requirements, such as a law enforcement school Fletcher announced he was setting up called the School of Leadership for Public Service.
Representatives of the new school claim there is no link between the county and the school. Still, county commissioners, including board chairman Toni Carter, said they’d lost faith in Fletcher’s discretion when spending money.
Fletcher has repeatedly assaulted Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. When Choi announced that he would no longer be prosecuting many of the cases arising from traffic congestion that is not for public safety, Fletcher joined other law enforcement officers in arguing that Choi’s decision to stop prosecuting the cases made police work more difficult. That same month, Fletcher called on Choi to assemble a team of three Ramsey County attorneys to decide juvenile cases — a method Fletcher said was not transparent.
‘The best thing Bob could do’
And then there’s ‘Live on Patrol’. As Fletcher has said in several episodes of the show, the purpose of the broadcasts is to show people policing and why it’s necessary. He believes the show is a form of government transparency, and that transparency increases trust in law enforcement.
Not everyone sees it that way.
After Fletcher livestreamed a high-speed chase through St. Paul and a video of Fletcher driving past the body of a person who was hit by a vehicle (Fletcher said he didn’t see the body), A group of St. Paul city council members has drafted a resolution to have the show evaluated for potential legal issues.
Still, Fletcher has no shortage of supporters eating every shot. The show gets a steady stream of ppeople thank Fletcher for the livestream as a source of information, including Fletcher’s thoughts on recent crime issues such as car theft and catalytic converter theft. A recent commentator begs Fletcher to provide Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department merchandise.
An avid viewer and longtime supporter of Fletcher is Roger Curtis, who said that “Live on Patrol” is “the best thing Bob could do”. “He brought police to Ramsey County, and he’s showing everyone how to do it,” Curtis said on the phone from his home in Hinckley, where he recently moved but still watches “Live on Patrol.” Born and raised in St. Paul, he said he voted for Fletcher many times, in part because he remembers him as a St. Paul police officer who “would do anything to find a solution.”
It’s also important to remember that Ramsey County isn’t just St. Paul, Schultz said. The city makes up just over half of the county’s population, and much of Fletcher’s winning margin of 12,000 votes in 2018 came from being well ahead of Serier in places outside the city, in suburban parts of the county such as White Bear. Lake, Little Canada, Mounds View, North St Paul and New Brighton.
“Yeah, the Democrats who dominate the provincial government and the people in St. Paul who are Democrats don’t like (Fletcher),” said Schultz. “But he’s very popular outside of St. Paul. The Democrats are very vocal because they don’t like him. But at the end of the day, his law-and-order approach to crime issues has been popular outside of St. Paul for three decades. Even within St. Paul.”