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EDITORIAL: Police diversity problem must be addressed
A diverse police force is a more effective police force.
That's something most reasonable folks — including the police — can agree on.
The officers who serve a municipality should accurately reflect the diverse population in that municipality.
Seems pretty straight forward.
As always, however, the devil is in the details.
Attracting qualified minority and female officers is not easy. In fact, it's downright difficult.
That fact was reinforced this week when it was announced that a York-area hiring consortium that represents 11 municipal police departments was accepting applications for open positions within all of the departments.
The Metropolitan York Police Testing Consortium will accept applications until 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 15. Hopefully, a significant number of qualified women and minorities will apply.
History, however, tells us that will not be the case. Normally, the applicants are overwhelmingly white men.
There are a number of reasons for that, but two jump immediately to mind.
Police work has not historically been a popular career choice for many women. The physical nature of the job was long considered an impediment for female applicants. That is thankfully changing, but at an extremely slow pace.
Attracting minority applicants, however, offers a different challenge. The No. 1 reason there are not more minority applicants is likely because, in African-American and Latino communities, there is a long-held distrust of the police.
That distrust causes many people of color to simply cross off police work as a possible career choice.
So how can the problem be fixed?
Well, to their credit, the police are trying. The consortium works with the YWCA of York's Racial Justice Programming Committee in an effort to attract minority candidates. The consortium also has posted a recruitment video on YouTube featuring several officers of color.
That's a good start, but it's just a start.
The area police departments and the consortium should do everything in their power to increase the pool of minority candidates.
According to Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz, who is the chair of the consortium, the “best recruiting tools we have is our officers who are out in the communities.”
That is undoubtedly true. Cops in the field must make it a priority to interact positively with the minority communities they serve and actively encourage African-American and Latino youngsters to consider police work. It should be part of their job descriptions.
That could go a long way to tearing down the walls of distrust.
In addition, the police departments and the consortium should double or even triple their efforts to find qualified minority and female candidates. Offering more outreach programs in schools with large minority populations would be a good place to start.
It's just not good enough to simply throw up your hands in frustration and say “there just aren't enough qualified minority candidates.”
Still, this is not a one-way street. The folks in the minority communities have a duty to step up, too.
Leaders in the minority neighborhoods must promote police work as an honorable and desirable profession. If they constantly tell their youngsters that police are not to be trusted, then it's highly unlikely that those same youngsters will ever consider becoming officers.
Those are just a few suggestions. York City Police Lt. Roy Kohler, who is chair of the consortium's minority-recruitment committee, may have put it best.
“There's no magic bullet,” he said.
The only choice is to work harder, smarter — and together — and find a way to solve the problem.