May a diversified force be with us, police say

By Gloria Nzeka

Capital News Service

LANSING — As police departments across the state are recruiting their next class of officers and deputies, they’re confronted with the lack of diversity within their ranks.

Some local departments, including the Holland Police Department, are actively recruiting a more diverse group of recruits.

Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said that for some reason, it’s very difficult to attract people to the profession.

“Diversity is something we are striving for, we’re working very hard to get there. The problem within a lot of communities and even among women is that the profession is just not attractive,”  Stevenson said.

David Ceci, director of the Oakland Police Academy in Auburn Hills, said diversity is more than what people often make of it.

“We often get stuck on ‘it’s black and white’ but diversity is greater than just that. We’ve got to look at gender, sexuality and religion. Those are all aspects that we need to focus on,” Ceci said.

The state Commission on Law Enforcement Standards has over 50 positions it’s recruiting for. To attract a diverse pool of applicants, police officials have been visiting schools, colleges and universities.

Stevenson, of the Association of Chiefs of Police, said one factor that limits efforts to make police departments better reflect Michigan’s diverse population is the cost of training to become a cop.

While the State Police covers training costs for its recruits, local police departments don’t.

“Many police departments cannot afford to send someone to the police academy,” Stevenson said. “They have to hire someone who has already put themselves through the police academy, which costs between $5,000 to $6,000 for tuition, and it takes 14 weeks to get through it.”

Besides tuition and books, students still need to purchase uniforms, firearms and other necessities. And that can come up to $7,000 or $8,000 for students to pay their way through the academy, Ceci said.

“There aren’t many candidates who can afford to spend that kind of money and time, especially in some minority communities,” Stevenson said. However, he said, the Association of Chiefs of Police looked at what other states have done, and the state could pick up the cost for a local police recruit’s training.

Adding to the cost of education is the loss of wages because most people can’t work while going through the academy. It’s time-consuming, said Ceci. If they do work, it’s usually part time.

Ceci said the career is demanding and people don’t necessarily want to give up weekends or holidays to work.

“It’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day, all day.” He also said that some of the expected perks  in law enforcement aren’t there. “Nationwide, not just in law enforcement, not just in Michigan pensions and health care benefits are being reduced and are going away.”

Ceci said there’s a need for better recruiting. “We need to start younger —  getting into schools with children at a young age so that they can see a positive police figure. Maybe that will change some perceptions earlier in the experiences of children.”

The Holland Police Department has put in place initiatives that expose local youth to careers in law enforcement.

Capt. Keith Mulder said the department’s Junior Police Academy and Citizens Police Academy are programs aimed at exposing youth and adults from diverse backgrounds to such careers.

“The Junior Police Academy targets junior high school students in our community, with many of them being from different ethnic backgrounds,” Mulder said. “It promotes teamwork, character, commitment and fitness, and exposes them to different aspects of law enforcement and our department.”

He also said Holland officers are involved in the schools, mentoring students and working with organizations that promote good life choices, education, professional direction and character among minority groups.

The Holland Police Department’s strategy to address the issue of diversity is recruiting at a variety of colleges with criminal justice programs, Mulder said.

The department also runs a cadet program, which is a part-time job for college students who want to go into criminal justice. Recruits come from high schools in the area and get experience and exposure to what a career in law enforcement is all about, he said.

A recent study found a lack of diversity in the Ann Arbor Police Department. At the time of the study, the department had 122 officers. Only 22.9 percent were female, and 17.2 percent belonged to an ethnic group other than white.

The report, by independent consulting firm Hillard Heintze, prompted the department to develop plans that include having a diverse mix of recruits.

Howell Police Chief George Basar said that what’s shown in the media may contribute to a lack of diversity.

Police officers in some minority communities do “some incredibly stupid things, which paint the entire profession with a broad brush,” said Basar, a past president of the Association of Chiefs of Police.

Ceci, of the Oakland Police Academy, said news stories paint a negative picture of police-community relations always being a race-related issue, and that deters some minority candidates who might want to get into the field.

The current divide isn’t all the police’s fault or all the community’s fault, he said. “I think it’s a little bit of both.

“Both sides need to come to the table and be willing to listen and learn a little bit about each other. I think that will help greatly in improving perceptions of law enforcement, and in turn, increase our recruitment prospects in diverse communities,” he said.