Police departments face challenges in minority recruitment

6:29 AM, Nov 8, 2005   |    comments
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Suburban and greater Minnesota law enforcement agencies have continually had trouble attracting minority recruits even as their communities grow more diverse, according to a number of police chiefs. Scott Knight is the police chief in Chaska, a growing suburban community 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The city is about 10 percent Hispanic, Knight said, but none of his 23 officers are. "It is the bane of all chiefs to access and attract minority recruits," Knight told The Forum newspaper of Fargo, N.D. The immediate past president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Knight couldn't name one department outside the Twin Cities that has met the challenge. It's been a persistent problem in the Fargo-Moorhead area, which has seen an influx of immigrants from places like Bosnia and Somalia in recent years. Fargo Police Chief Chris Magnus has taken his pitch to job fairs as far away as Detroit and Chicago. "Frankly, they've not been successful," he said. Magnus said he's since targeted his efforts closer to home, trying to attract recruits directly from minority populations in the area or nearby. With an eye to recruiting, Magnus said he's working on stronger relationships between his department and minority communities. The department has appointed one officer to the role of refugee liaison, and has sought special training from the National Law Enforcement Recruiters Association. "I think we're doing the best we can," Magnus said. "It's challenging." Across the Red River in Moorhead, the U.S. census in 2000 pegged the Hispanic and Latino population at 4.5 percent. But only one of 49 officer positions is filled by a Hispanic person, according to Police Chief Grant Weyland. Still, Weyland gave up advertising in Latino publications in Texas about three years ago when it failed to produce results. Weyland said he doesn't expect to mirror the city's demographics among police officers, but he's like to improve the ratio. A number of challenges face departments trying to attract officers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Recruiters said they often encounter refugees with negative perceptions of police -- some who fled countries where police were the occupying force or were corrupt. Even drawing non-minority candidates from outside the region can be hard, recruiters said. The perception of places like Fargo-Moorhead as cold and isolated makes it difficult even to draw white male officers from other places. It's also a challenge to compete against larger departments like in Minneapolis, which boasts a more diverse population citywide as well as higher salaries and greater career advancement opportunities in its large police department. It's a situation that echoes nationwide, according to Jason Abend, executive director of the Virginia-based National Law Enforcement Recruiters Association. He said officers of color are at the top of the recruitment pecking order. "It's a buyer's market, so the people being recruited can basically go wherever they want," Abend said. The demographics at regional police academies offer little hope in the short term. At Alexandria Technical College, the two-year law enforcement program currently has 456 students -- 96.7 of them white, according to Scott Berger, an instructor. Berger said the school actively recruits minority students because of the high demand for officers of color. Felipe Ortiz, the president of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, acknowledged the difficulties faced by departments outside large metro areas. She said such departments must take calculated risks in how it allocates recruiting resources. Ortiz said departments in places like Fargo-Moorhead should sell the area's quality of life to potential officers who want to avoid the crime, traffic and cost of living in larger markets. Some departments have recruited Hispanic candidates from California and Texas by helping defray moving expenses, Ortiz added, often going as far as convincing local apartment managers and utility companies to waive deposit payments for new recruits.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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