The Columbus Division of Police received a higher percentage of "diverse" applicants to the department this year than it did last year, department officials say. However, the total number of applications is down, a trend seen by law enforcement agencies across the U.S.
Columbus Police deputy chief Jennifer Knight says that in 2020, 49% of all applicants to the division were non-white and non-male, compared to 45.7% in 2019. Of this year's pool, 25.7% were African American, up from 23% in 2019.
Overall, 1,526 people applied to the police academy in 2020, which marks a 21.4% decrease from the 1,942 who applied last year.
Knight says the national mood sparked by the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests in Columbus, may have attracted a more diverse pool of candidates.
“It’s also been something that had potentially brought new candidates to policing that didn’t think about it before, but realize that there is a call to action,” Knight says.
Simultaneously, Knight says people who may normally consider becoming officers may have decided against it.
“I think people look at policing, and I think it’s been a challenge for people that would traditionally come to policing and say, ‘Do I really want to do this in this environment?’” Knight says.
Columbus Police have been criticized for its forceful response to demonstrators, especially officers' use of tear gas and pepper spray, and the city last month funded an independent review of how the department handled protests.
Applications to the department have steadily declined since 2017. However, Columbus Police also attribute part of this year's dip to COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic, the department did not engage in any in-person outreach for officer recruitment, and instead purchased commercials and made a social media push.
“We had our first professional commercial, if anyone saw that,” Knight says. “It was very timely, it talked about kind of the state of Columbus and the state of the United States right now and policing.”