Seeking diversity

Roughly 94 percent of all officers in the Columbus Police Department are white, a statistic that local law enforcement officials say highlights a need for stronger efforts toward recruiting minority officers.

In fact, Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde said his department is already taking steps to align the diversity of the 81-officer local police force with makeup of the city as a whole.

“The issue isn’t that they’re not being hired,” Rohde said. “It’s that they are not applying.”

Through a long-term recruitment plan designed to appeal to a larger group of potential minority police officers early in their careers, Rohde said he hopes his department will begin to see a significant uptick in the number of minority officers by the year 2024.

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That uptick of seeing more minority law enforcement officers apply and be hired in Columbus is important beyond the police department, Rohde said.

“It’s important in everything — the police department or a community board — to get representation of all the diverse cultures in the community,” he said.

For those who might infer the recruitment efforts are in response to nationwide unrest over police action shootings involving African-Americans, Rohde said the department had this recruitment plan in place long before the incidents on the nationwide level began.

To determine appropriate percentages each ethnicity should represent in the local police force, the department does an analysis that compares the available workforce — people between the ages of 21 to 35 — in the city’s actual employment breakdowns.

In 2015, the comparison showed that:

The available workforce for white officers was 87 percent, and the actual workforce was 94 percent

The available workforce for black officers was 3 percent, and the actual workforce was 4 percent

The available workforce for Hispanic officers was 6 percent, and the actual workforce was 3 percent

The available workforce for other ethnicities was 4 percent, but the actual workforce was zero

To study the effectiveness of recruiting officers from various ethnic backgrounds, the department commissioned an analysis into its recruitment and selection process in 2014.

That analysis found that for short-term purposes, the local police department was using effective strategies.

For example, Rohde said the department is heavily involved with the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization and strives to build strong relationships with CAMEO participants to help attract diverse people to the force.

Similarly, the police department casts a wider net when seeking new officers by advertising jobs in places with higher minority populations, such as Indianapolis or on college and university campuses. The police department also sends informational pamphlets to black universities throughout the Midwest, especially those with criminal justice programs.

The local police department also recruits from Camp Atterbury, which hosts a diverse group of people, Rohde said.

‘Out-of-the-box thinking’

The Rev. Mike Harris, leader of the African American Pastors Alliance, said the members have talked a great deal with the police department about finding officers who want to work in law enforcement in their own hometown.

But Harris said he knows that single black men who might be considering a career in law enforcement wouldn’t want to live in Columbus right now. With only a 2 percent African-American population, Columbus isn’t the environment young people would be looking for, he said.

“They go to Indianapolis — they go to Louisville,” he said, cities that have larger populations of young African-Americans.

However, potential minority recruits with families would be attracted to a Columbus law-enforcement job, Harris said, as most people have discovered what a great place Columbus is to raise a family.

The police department’s current efforts to find homegrown talent are welcomed but right now aren’t producing the desired results, Harris said.

“We need more out-of-the-box thinking on this,” Harris said, also saying it will take the combined efforts of the community to find a solution.

“If we don’t collectively fix this, we are going to continue to have problems,” he said, referring the nationwide unrest over police action shootings of African-American men during interactions with police.

“We’re becoming a blaming nation rather than one that solves problems,” Harris said of the nationwide controversy. “We need to be talking about how to resolve the problems. The problems with members of the young African-American community and police departments will take all of us collectively working to solve it.”

Aside from ethnic minorities, Rohde said women are also considered minorities on the local police force.

Although women make up half of the population, the national standard for the number of women on police forces is 13 percent, compared to the 9 percent of Columbus officers in 2015 who were women. However, a new female officer was hired this year, so Rohde said that number is likely closer to 11 percent now.

Despite the department’s varied efforts to attract more minorities and women, Rohde said most applicants seeking police jobs in Columbus are white males. In fact, the city’s most recent two hires were white males.

When Rohde spoke at a recent event sponsored by Columbus’ population from India, he asked the group how the police department could more effectively recruit in their culture, he said. Assuming many individuals had high-level degrees in other fields, he was surprised at the answer. The majority did not have American citizenship and were in the United States on work visas. American citizenship is required for eligibility to apply for a position on the police force.

“So in addition to not having applicants, we have the additional hurdle of having some people not eligible to apply,” he said.

To improve the numbers of diverse applicants and hires, the 2014 analysis suggested that the department develop a long-term recruitment plan.

Specifically, Rohde said the plan the department developed is aimed at getting students as young as high school underclassmen interested in police work.

Through the police cadet program at area high schools, students ages 15 to 18 can spend time with local officers and learn about all areas of police work. From a recruitment perspective, Rohde said the department has tried to attract minorities and women into the cadet program to encourage diversity.

Students who develop a genuine interest in police work through the high school cadet program can then transition into the newest leg of the long-term recruitment plan, the cadet program at IUPUC.

The IUPUC cadet program, which began in 2015, allows students interested in law enforcement to continue in the exposure and beginner training they received in the high school program while simultaneously pursuing a criminal justice or similar degree.

During the university program, cadets will spend one summer going through the Law Enforcement Academy in Bloomington. Once cadets complete the academy, they can then become part-time officers on the university campus, allowing them to garner both academic and real-life police experience while still in school.

Once they complete the university cadet program, the student officers can then apply for a job with the Columbus Police Department. If the program has been intentional about recruiting minority students, then that should translate into a more diverse police force, Rohde said.

Since it will take some time for the IUPUC cadet program to get off the ground and for students to complete that program, Rohde said he does not expect to see the long-term plan come fully to fruition until 2024. In the meantime, he said he is focusing on building positive relationships with members of local minority populations, especially the younger members of those populations.

The chief also said he works closely with the Columbus Human Rights Commission to build relationships with minority groups that could help the local police department expand its diversity. In a city as naturally diverse as Columbus, Rohde said he wants his department to represent the city’s commitment to embracing people of all cultures.

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The current breakdown of the diversity on the city police force:

75: Caucasians

4: African-Americans

2: Hispanics

8: Women