In Search Of A Diverse Police Force
Police say recruiting minority officers can be a real challenge
Lt. Greg Perks, Commander of Investigation and Support Division with the Webster Groves Police Department, with Webster Groves Police Officer Cydney Schaefer. A recent hire, Schaefer is the department's first African-American female officer. Diana Linsley. (click for larger version)
August 10, 2017
Police recruitment is a competitive process. Smaller sized police forces, like those found in Webster Groves and Kirkwood, compete for officers against local, state, national and federal law enforcement agencies. Minority officers can also be difficult to recruit.
Diversity within police departments became a national conversation soon after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014. The incident sparked controversy, national media attention, and protests.
But with so few minorities seeking careers in law enforcment the goal of increasing diversity by police departments can be a real challenge.
Webster Groves Police Department
The Webster Groves Police Department recently hired its first black female officer. Currently in a probationary training period, the department would not allow an interview.
The Webster Groves Police Department does not utilize helicopters, K-9 units, or swat teams that can be enticing to young recruits. However, the department can offer a stable workplace, competitive pay, a solid benefits package and a great place to work, according to Capt. Stephen Spear, a 31-year police veteran and the city's field operations officer. Spear is also a former recruiting officer.
"We don't have the flash, we don't have the tactical teams, but if you want a good place to work with a long-term future, that's what appeals," Spear said. "That's what we try to sell while we are out recruiting."
Starting salary for a Webster officer is $47,242, according to Spear. Due to the recent passage of the county-wide Prop P, an increase in pay is expected in the coming months.
Webster employs 45 police officers. Due to a retirement, one officer position is open and is expected to be filled this month. The department employs four white females; one black female; three black males; two Hispanic males (one is half Hispanic, half Native American); and 35 white males.
Though the department does not have a residency requirement, an officer must be able to respond within 30 minutes from receiving a notification.
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) recognizes best management practices. According to Spear, one of the accreditation requirements involves recruitment standards and working to meet demographics for the area the agency serves. The Webster Groves Police Department holds accreditation through CALEA.
Webster recruits new officers from three police training academies in the region. Police recruiters also attend job fairs and visit colleges and universities throughout the state. Recruiting can be highly competitive between agencies across the nation. Those agencies also look to St. Louis to hire eligible recruits.
Minority recruits are sought after as departments look to diversify their agencies, often affording minority recruits the opportunity to be selective in choosing employment.
Spear said a larger pool of qualified candidates, including minorities, would be ideal, adding that there is no simple solution as to how to expand that pool.
Spear said the reasons for choosing a career in law enforcement can be different than when he went through the academy in the 1980s.
"Today's kids coming through the academy are maybe a little more worldly. They've had experiences and seen things through social media and have seen the world on a 24/7 news cycle that certainly we weren't exposed to," Spear said. "So that affects who wants to be a police officer because they're seeing both the good and the bad being aired out there. They have to decide if they want to be part of that."
Spear said Webster Groves places a great deal of emphasis on diversity in its community policing efforts. The city has numerous community outreach programs, such as school resource officers, specialized training efforts, and encouragement for officers to engage with the community.
"Having that broad pool, if you will, of experiences or resources allows you to draw from society and from different groups. It just makes you a better agency," Spear said.
Kirkwood Police Department
The Kirkwood Police Department also holds CALEA accreditation. The department has 59 officers with two current openings for a police chief and one officer. The city expects to start interviewing for the chief of police position later this month.
Emina Seevers is the human resource manager for the city of Kirkwood. She said police department recruitment efforts mainly focus on local candidates. Efforts include posting open positions in area newspapers, such as the St. Louis American, attending job fairs, and posting notices on the city's website and with area police academies.
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With passage of Prop P, a 6.3 percent increase was recently added to police officer starting salaries, raising that salary to $55,656. Seevers said the city offers an "excellent" benefits package. Kirkwood does not have a residency requirement for its police employees.
The department employs one black female; three white females; one not self-identified female; three black males; two Hispanic males and 49 white males.
"The number of applicants for police positions varies from year to year. There have been years when we received dozens of applications for every position that was open. More recently, the number of applications has decreased. This could be attributable to local and national events, or there could be other factors," Seevers said.
Capt. Brian Murphy, a field operations officer, has been with the department for 30 years. He said recruitment of minorities has been an issue in law enforcement for many years. Murphy added that it was "extremely important" in any type of public service to be a reflection of the community served.
"It's not like (recruitment issues) are something that has just popped up for the first time. For 30 years it has been that way," Murphy said. "I think it's more in the light now because of everything that's happened recently, but its been that way for a while."
The Kirkwood Police Department has a number of programs in which officers engage with the public. Friday "Hot Dog Days" are held in different Kirkwood parks during the summer and is a popular event for both residents and officers. Another effort toward public engagement is police involvement in the Special Olympics.
St. Louis County Police Department
The St. Louis County Police Department, also with CALEA accreditation, has about 850 police officers.
The department employs 133 black officers, 17 Hispanic officers, two Indian officers, eight Asian officers, 11 mixed-race officers and 679 white officers.
The starting salary for a St. Louis County police officer is $48,256. A salary increase is expected as a result of the passage of Prop P, along with the addition of 110 officer positions.
Recruitment efforts include job fairs, local college visits and partnerships, online application acceptance, and mentoring programs.
Partnerships with local universities, such as Lindenwood and Maryville, allow students to spend their last semester attending the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. Students graduate with their college degree, a state license required to become a police officer, and employment with the St. Louis County Police Department, according to Officer Ricardo Franklin, the St. Louis County police recruiter.
Franklin said the county is currently in negotiations with St. Louis Community College to implement the same program.
Meeting educational requirements and dealing with negative peer pressures can be issues for minorities considering careers in law enforcement, Franklin said.
Franklin is African-American and has been a police officer since 2008. He said he understands the challenges of police work for someone coming from a poverty-stricken area filled with drugs and violence.
"If this person wants to do something positive, and their group of friends are gang bangers or drug dealers, that is a really tough step to take. Me personally, I grew up in North St. Louis. I understand that. It was huge for me to want to be better — want to have better," Franklin said. "I've been told by several applicants that a determining factor was that they just had no support from family and friends and that's really tough to get over."
Two programs implemented within the last two years have been a "tremendous" help in the recruitment of minorities.
One program is designed to help individuals who do not meet the minimum requirement of 64 hours of college credit or two years of military service. Chosen applicants are offered employment with the St. Louis County Government for a period of one year. After one year the candidate can apply for transfer into the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. The candidate is still required to pass all background investigations and any other requirements.
Another initiative, called the Cadet Program, is a one-year paid internship for individuals 18 to 21 years of age who have plans to enroll in college. Participants receive training in nearly every department and division in the St. Louis County Police Department. After completion of the program the participant is eligible to enter the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. The requirement of 64 college credit hours is lowered to 33. Due to the success of the Cadet Program, it will be expanded from nine cadets to 20 in the coming months.
"It's all about educating our youth and that's what becomes huge," Franklin said. "That's my goal as a mentor, to help you decide on how to be a successful productive citizen."