(Yuki Abdulle smiles as she receives her certificate of participation from St. Paul, Minn. Police Chief Thomas Smith, right, and Assistant Chief Todd Axtell, left, during a graduation ceremony for the East African Junior Police Academy in St. Paul. Photo: AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)
Many police departments across the country have come under fire for their lack of diversity since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black 18-year-old. Brown was shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, where two-thirds of the community is Black, but only three of the town’s 53 officers are African-American.
"I think the community feels better about their police department if the police department maybe reflects the makeup of the community — but that's easier said than done,” Bill Carson, the newly-elected police chief of St. Louis suburb Maryland Heights, told the Associated Press.
Yet despite extensive efforts to recruit more minorities — his department of 79 officers only has one Black and one Latino officer — Carson only received four applications from Black and Latino recruits during his first hiring process as chief. "It's not like we're passing over a lot of great minority applicants so that we can hire more white police officers,” he said.
Experts have confirmed that solutions for a more diverse police rank are not as simple as advertising in Black publications or at job fairs for historically Black colleges, as Carson did.
According to the AP, authorities say other reasons include "many departments limiting their searches too close to home, not recruiting in the right places and setting criteria that can disproportionately exclude groups they hope to attract.” An historically cultural distrust and fear of the police was another significant factor pointed to by experts.
"If you were taught from the time that you could speak, from the time that you could understand speech, that police are to be feared and that they're part of an occupying force that is there to circumvent the democratic processes and to strip you of your rights, then it's very difficult for that department to come into your neighborhood and tell you that they respect you and that you should join their team," Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and president of the Center for Policing Equity at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the AP.
Several departments have gone to great lengths to recruit more minorities, including reaching out as far as Puerto Rico and offering pay increases to officers fluent in Spanish, Laotian or Vietnamese. In Minneapolis, where there are large Somali and Burmese communities, the police department has recruited a number of East African cops and liaisons to help combat “the stigma” attached to local law enforcement. St. Paul-area officers have even held children’s events, like the department’s inaugural East African Police Academy.
"It's a thing to let the kids know that we're OK," Sgt. Paul Paulos told AP. "I think it's very important to start at a young age ... It's a long-term recruitment. It's nothing done overnight.”
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