Police struggle to attract diverse candidates

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Maintaining a diverse workforce has been an ongoing problem for Michigan law enforcement agencies, according to Bob Stevenson. 

These days, recruiting for any type of law enforcement positions is a struggle, said Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. 

“It’s very difficult right now for us to recruit, period,” Stevenson said. “If you go to the websites, you’ll see hundreds of departments are looking for people. 

“Recruiting in general is a crisis right now, but recruiting diversity within the other crisis has made it doubly hard,” he said.

It’s a challenge for individual agencies and for universities such as Wayne State and Ferris State with criminal justice programs. 

After the 2020 murder of George Floyd, an African American man in Minneapolis who was killed by a white police officer, Stevenson said it’s been hard for recruiters to portray law enforcement careers as noble. 

Because of public criticism, he’s seen officers leave the profession and enter new ones, like working for Amazon, he said. 

“We need to overcome the damage that’s been done by some criminals who were wearing a uniform,” Stevenson said about the former officers involved in Floyd’s murder. “What they did in a couple minutes takes us years to undo and get over.” 

Diverse recruiting, he said, is a way agencies can re-establish some of the public trust that’s been lost. 

Career fairs, partnerships with community groups and funding for aspirants who need financial assistance for police academy training are among the ways Stevenson said agencies are trying to attract a diverse incoming class of officers. 

It costs on average about $8,000 to attend a police academy, Stevenson said. 

Additionally, training takes about 14 weeks. For some aspirants, he said, paying for weeks of training without getting reimbursed is not feasible. 

Legislation was introduced last year in the House and Senate that would allow agencies to fund training for recruits. Sponsors include Rep. Tyrone Carter and Sen. Sylvia Santana, both Democrats from Detroit. 

“If we can take and pay for people to go through the academy and pay them money — a salary, if you will — it suddenly makes it more affordable, and potentially more attractive,” Stevenson said. 

Stevenson said the chiefs’ association has hired a public relations firm to highlight the benefits of law enforcement careers. 

Sgt. Kellie Shaffer, who recruits for the State Police, said one way her department is trying to attract more diverse applicants is through the interactions its troopers have with the public. 

“It’s important that troopers represent and promote the organization as a professional positive career choice because those daily interactions and contacts on complaints, traffic stops are things that leave the impression on one’s mind,” Shaffer said. 

On Feb. 17, the State Police Academy graduated 50 troopers. According to the department, 39 of them are white, four are Black, three are Hispanic, two are Native American, one is Asian and one is multi-racial. 

Only five of the 50 fledgling troopers are women. 

In Michigan, 14.1% of residents are Black, 5.3% are Hispanic or Latino, 3.4% are Asian, 2.5% are multi-racial and 0.7% are Native American, according to the U.S. Census. About 50% are women. 

A January report by the State Police found racial disparities in 2020 traffic stops by its troopers. African American drivers, the report concluded, were more likely to be stopped at a higher rate than their proportion of the population, while Hispanic and Asian drivers were less likely to be stopped than their proportions of the population. 

“Michiganders deserve unbiased policing, transparency, and accountability from their state police, and that’s what they’re going to get,” Col. Joe Gasper, the State Police director, said in a statement. 

“To be clear, this report is not a commentary on the integrity of individual troopers, who are steadfastly committed to serving everyone with dignity and respect,” Gasper said. “But this independent study did find clear and consistent evidence that racial and ethnic disparities exist in State Police traffic stops, and we need to change that.

To address that problem, the department announced a five-point plan that includes hiring an independent consulting firm to review policy, launching community engagement programs, educating troopers about implicit bias and issuing body cameras.

Shaffer said additional recruitment measures include career fairs, social media and youth mentorship programs.

Higher education also serves as an entry point into law enforcement positions. 

Professor Brad Smith, who chairs the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Wayne State University, said over 20% of the program’s students are African American, and almost 10% are Hispanic. 

He said diversity in such programs are important because it can lead to better representation in the workforce. Graduates enter a variety of careers, but many go into law enforcement, Smith said. 

“It’s really, really important that law enforcement reflect the people they’re serving, but it’s also important for the people in those positions to be able to interact with people from diverse backgrounds,” Smith said. 

At Ferris State University, the admissions office works to recruit a diverse student body, according to Cecil Queen, the director of the university’s law enforcement academy. 

The academy can accept only criminal justice students who’ve completed their third year at the university, he said. 

Other regional police academies recruit minority applicants more directly, according to Queen, but they still have a hard time finding diverse applicants.

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