Building police diversity

The University deputy police chief said his department struggles with diversity in hiring.

Elizabeth Cook

Aurelius Butler knew immediately he would be pulled over as he passed a cop while driving on Harvard Street Southeast.

The political science senior said he was pulled over and told he didn’t look old enough to drive.

Butler said he thinks it was because he’s a nonwhite student on a campus in which the majority of police officers are white.

Diversity among police officers and how that corresponds to the population they protect is an issue for many police departments.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University, said there isn’t much racial diversity at his department because the hiring pool isn’t diverse.

Diversity in recruitment “is something that we’ve been challenged with for a long time,” Johnson said.

One of the problems is that the University doesn’t have a curriculum for students who want to become police officers.

“More needs to be done to get more (students) interested in law enforcement,” Johnson said.

He also said it would be nearly impossible to get officers who represent the entire University population.

There aren’t enough positions, he said, for every culture and country that would need to be represented.

The University is also the only university in Minnesota with its own police department, and because of the college stigma, it is harder to find officers who want to work here, he said.

Johnson said that when the department is hiring new officers, race is not a top priority, but rather if they can do their job and meet the requirements.

“We’re going to hire the best candidates and hopefully we’re going to hire good, diverse candidates from that pool,” Johnson said.

But because the pool is predominantly white, he said, a good nonwhite candidate is going to be heavily recruited everywhere.

“The pool is not reflective of the culture that we have living here,” Johnson said.

University police have tried recruiting diverse candidates by attending career fairs geared toward nonwhite candidates, University Police Department Lt. Charles Miner said.

Johnson said police also go to some of the colleges in the state and talk to students who might be interested in becoming officers.

The department has trouble recruiting because it is smaller and doesn’t have enough resources or a training academy, Johnson said.

American Indian studies senior Carly Beane said there has to be a reason the pool departments hire from isn’t diverse.

“If they aren’t applying, there needs to be work done in those communities because they obviously don’t have a good image of what cops are,” Beane said.

Patrick Troup, director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, said it’s important for the police department to be more reflective of the student population.

Troup said University police are trying to be more diverse and that they come to a lot of the center’s events.

One example is the two-day kickoff event the center has in the beginning of the year where students can learn about on-campus resources.

When police come to the event, it helps because students feel more comfortable when they can put a face to an officer, Troup said.

Troup said many students feel they can’t change the diversity of the University police department.

Aurelius Butler said students are mad and beyond talking about the problems.

“We want results,” he said.

Troup said students get bothered about how diverse the department is primarily when there is any type of interaction involving hate crimes, profiling or even ticketing.

“I think they’re bothered by it when an incident arises,” Troup said. “It’s a concern, but not a top priority.”

Troup said he doesn’t think profiling is a problem with campus police, but that it happens more with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments.

Advertising senior Ishan Dumra said he is comfortable with the police department at the University and that he thinks the reason it’s not diverse is because it’s a stereotypically Caucasian job.

Police diversity

English senior Anu Cherucheril said she’s had no problems with campus police, but has had incidents with Minneapolis police.

She said she’s been followed in her car and watched, but said the Minneapolis police corps is becoming more diverse.

The Minneapolis Police Department employs 798 officers, 133 of whom are not white men.

“We are proud of the diversity we have right now, but we are trying to, very diligently, diversify it even more,” said Ron Reier, Minneapolis police spokesman.

For example, there aren’t any Somalian police officers on the department, but there is a Somalian community service officer training, Reier said.

Jeremy Hanson, R.T. Rybak’s spokesman, said there are plans in play to make the police department more diverse.

Rybak announced in August that with the 71 new Minneapolis police department hires, diversity is a concern.

“The majority of these 71 officers will be people of color,” Hanson said.

One way to achieve this is lateral hiring, Hanson said, which brings in already-licensed police officers from other, more diverse populations.

He said the other plan is the community service officer program, which encourages local residents to become police officers. With this program, people can be trained in the police department while going to school.

Rybak’s opponent in this year’s mayoral race, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, said the city committed to diversifying the police department two years ago, and that hasn’t happened.

McLaughlin said Rybak had no plan and ended up hiring five new officers by Labor Day, all of whom were white.

Cam Gordon, a Ward 2 City Council candidate, said diversity is a concern within the Minneapolis Police Department.

Gordon said he is interested in how to recruit officers who live in the city.

“It makes a big difference if you know the community and live in the community,” Gordon said.

Cara Letofsky, Gordon’s Ward 2 opponent, said one of her priorities will be to build a police department that looks more like the population.

One challenge in recruiting officers from other states is Minnesota’s requirement that all officers have a college education, Letofsky said. Not all states have the same prerequisite.

In St. Paul

The St. Paul Police Department was noted at a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension state conference as a progressive police department in hiring and retaining minority officers, said Pete Crum, a St. Paul Police Department spokesman.

“We’ve been making an effort for many years,” Crum said.

Seventy-nine of the department’s 556 officers, or 14.2 percent, are nonwhite, versus 16.6 percent in Minneapolis.

The department tries to recruit heavily within programs such as parking enforcement, Crum said. This way, future officers can attend school while training within the system.

There are also the reserves and liaisons, which are similar transitional programs.

St. Paul also targets high school students with an Explorers program, which seeks to get youths interested in becoming police officers.

Crum also mentioned that the pool from which officers are picked is not very diverse, which is why St. Paul has programs to recruit nonwhites and women.

Carl Kuhl, the communications director for the office of St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, said the mayor meets with the police chief and the fire chief to discuss ways to make the departments more diverse.

Kuhl said that in 2001, one-third of the people in officer training were nonwhite or women.

Kuhl said the city is “open to new ideas and always looking for new ways to diversify the pool.”