Smaller police departments in rural areas of Ohio are finding it more difficult to diversify their departments than larger, urban departments.
According to law enforcement experts, it’s the pay gap that is the biggest determining factor in attracting minority candidates.
Woodville Police Chief Roy Whitehead cited better pay in urban departments as the main reason for his department’s recruiting struggles.
“The struggle is real,” Whitehead said. “We’re struggling to pay candidates a wage that competes with some of the bigger communities. It’s always about pay in Woodville.”
Whitehead, who has been trying to diversify his department since becoming chief, said he’s already lost potential candidates due to being out-competed by bigger agencies that pay often $8-12 an hour more.
Whitehead said the department often recruit from the largely white Owens Community College police academy. Law enforcement members across the state have since realized the importance of injecting more diversity into academy classes.
“Communities are diverse, and we need to have people out there to meet that need,” said Jim Bond, commander at the police academy at EHOVE in Milan, Ohio. Bond said he is trying to increase the ratio of minority cadets in rural academies.
Whitehead, a 21-year police veteran, said that he has never had trouble finding minority candidates.
“In the past, we’ve had several female officers, I’ve had two black males (officers),” Whitehead said.
However, both of these officers left the department for financial reasons, finding better opportunities at Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, Lake Township Police Department, and the Fostoria Police Department.
“I just lost another officer who happens to be white and Korean to Northwood,” Whitehead told the Fremont News Messenger.
Whitehead said that another reason behind the recruiting woes could be negativity surrounding the law enforcement industry over the past year after high-profile racial incidents involving police.
However, he still tries to sell Woodville as a great place to start out in policing and learn the ropes, as well as to connect with a close-knit community.
The police chief said that some people even fall in love with rural departments and choose to stay, despite the lower pay.
He also said that one of the benefits of working in a smaller department is that staff have more flexible schedules and holidays.
“Sometimes the bigger cities just can’t offer that,” Whitehead said.
Regina Vincent-Williams, president of the Fremont chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office has reached out to the NAACP for help in diversifying its ranks.
Recently, the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office hired three female deputies – the most women the department has had at a single time.
“I know there have been past efforts and discussions on recruitment. The public needs to demand diversity in hiring in many areas and industries,” she said.