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Former cop takes over as county attorney

Steele County county attorney, county attorney, Robert Jarrett
In the photo with all three, from left to right is his wife Angie, daughter Holly and daughter Maddie. Staff photo by Jonny Clubb
Alex Malm, Contributing Writer

For years, Robert Jarrett worked as a police officer. It's what he’d always wanted to do.

But then, after years of missing family events, holidays, nights, and weekends, he decided to change careers, going back to law school, graduating, and getting his first gig as a prosecutor for the Steele County Attorney’s Office.

Now Jarrett will be serving out the remainder of former County Attorney Julia Forbes’ term, which ends in January 2027. Forbes resigned in April, and county commissioners on May 28 approved Jarrett to fill the seat.

Cop to prosecutor

Jarrett was a cop for 13 years before he graduated from law school at Mitchell Hamline. Soon to be an Owatonna resident, he started working for Steele County in 2019.

While in law school, he said, there were a handful of other cops going to school to further their education. Most were going part time, while he attended law school full time during the week and then worked weekends as an officer.

“It’s more common than you think,” he said.

Jarrett said not many ex-cops end up practicing criminal law; in fact, he thought he would become a civil lawyer after he graduated.

“Well, I was kind of naturally drawn back to it, and it was a good fit,” Jarrett said about the decision.

In 2022, Jarrett would take on a new role as the Rochester Police Department’s Professional Standards Manager and department attorney.

Essentially, Jarrett said, he was in charge of internal affairs for the police department and answered only to the police chief and mayor.

Jarrett believes a law enforcement background is helpful in his role as a prosecutor.

For example, he tries to do a lot of training, because cops “got a pretty bad rap the last couple of years especially.” Those training sessions, he said, sometimes occur with him dropping by night shifts, something more traditional career prosecutors may not do.

Jarrett said he knows cops work different shifts, and he wants to make sure they have as much information as possible when it comes to the legal system.

“I want to make sure that they're doing the right thing, they're following the law,” Jarrett said.

He said when it comes from a former cop who understands safety issues and why something may be done a certain way, officers give the training a little more “credence.”

Building upon success

Jarrett said one of his top goals in his new role is to “continue the programming that Steele County is known for.”

In fact, Jarrett said he was just coming back from Veterans Court before the interview for this story. There are plenty of opportunities to help with recidivism, he said.

“I’m honored for this opportunity to lead the Steele County Attorney’s Office. I look forward to continued participation in the robust justice programs serving the area, including the Steele-Waseca Drug Court and Third District Veteran’s Court,” Jarrett wrote in a press release. “To have meaningful impact in our community, it is important that offenders be both held accountable and provided treatment courts and other programs.”

Recruitment, retention

Along with his other goals, Jarrett said he is looking to fill out and keep the office staff. Jarrett said there has been an open attorney position for almost a year.

He said counties across the state are experiencing pains when it comes to hiring.

When he first applied for his rank-and-file position with Steele County in 2019, there were two openings across the state. At the time of this interview, there were 30 counties hiring.

Jarrett said he has some finalists lined up and hopes to soon have a full staff, at least for now.

Then there's a work life balance for staff, something with which he is very familiar.

“You have to have that good work life balance to do good work for the people,” Jarrett said.

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