After months of protests over reports of controversial use-of-force incidents and a global pandemic, it’s no wonder many police departments are struggling to attract new recruits, especially among people of color.
“We get maligned and kind of criticized for everything we do, especially in the media,” Colonel John Bolduc, a superintendent with the Nebraska State Patrol, told the Lincoln Journal Star. “Coast to coast, we get labeled as racist and painted with a broad brush and people see that. And they’re like, ‘I don’t want to be a part of that.’”
The truth is, this year’s developments only complicate an already diminishing recruitment pace. Police departments of all sizes have had to face shrinking candidate pools in recent years. Of course, negative perceptions probably play a part in the lackluster interest among younger millennials and the first members of generation Z to enter the workforce, but other factors hold some of the blame, too. Before COVID-19, record low unemployment rates meant greater career opportunities in other professions. The lengthy process from application to academy graduation also could discourage people who might consider other job options in the meantime.
Not only have circumstances shrunk overall talent pools, but they’ve also dampened efforts to increase diversity among sworn personnel.
“Having a more diverse force doesn’t protect you against anti-police sentiment. What it does protect you against is the kind of narrow-minded single-focus attitude that can lead you to bad policy,” Tom Casady, a former police chief and public safety director from Lincoln, Nebraska, said.
According to the Journal Star, none of the police agencies in the Lincoln area, including the Nebraska State Police, currently has more than 10 officers representing any minority group, including Asians and Native Americans. Also, none of the 65 candidates who sat for the latest Lincoln P.D. exam was Black.
“If I were to give ourselves a grade, we’re definitely not getting an A. We need to do better. We have definite room to grow,” admitted Lincoln Police Captain Jason Stille.
“Coast to coast, we get labeled as racist and painted with a broad brush…. And they’re like, ‘I don’t want to be a part of that.’”
Still, chiefs, sheriffs and recruiters haven’t given up the fight to find more Black, Latinx and other minority members to join the ranks. Instead of traditional recruitment methods like placing ads in local periodicals or setting up booths at career fairs, the departments have turned to digital platforms popular with younger people. For example, the Nebraska State Police have created several Twitter accounts specifically to establish rapport with different communities. Black and Latinx troopers write most of the posts, some in Spanish. They’ve also purchased ads on some streaming services.
“With our limited ad dollars, we don’t want to reach a 55-year-old. We want to reach a 25-year-old,” State Patrol spokesperson Cody Thomas said.
And there are indications these strategies are beginning to produce results. Bolduc told reporters that nearly 20% of the Patrol’s last two recruitment camps consisted of racial minorities, up from 14% four years ago.