Efforts To Diversify Columbus Police Department Show Little Results

Mar 18, 2016

At the Columbus Police academy, Sergeant Duane Nicholson, walks down the linoleum lined halls. He opens the door to the staff breakroom and shows me the class of 2016. There’s a wall lined with a photo of each of the 39 students. Six are women and five men of color. Nicholson says this a good sign.

At the Columbus Police academy, Sergeant Duane Nicholson, walks down the linoleum lined halls. He opens the door to the staff breakroom and shows me the class of 2016. There’s a wall lined with a photo of each of the 39 students. Six are women and five men of color. Nicholson says this a good sign.

“It’s one of the most diverse classes that we’ve ever had in terms of females and minorities,” said Nicholson

Nicholson has been the recruiting Sergeant since 2011, and says that’s when diversity become more of a focus.

“Before it was just, well we worked with whoever we were working with,” said Nicholson. “Now that’s one of the things that I’m thinking about all the time. How do we get more diversity into the department?”

Last month Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s diversity officer, Steve Francis began his position. One of Francis’s first tasks will be to increase diversity in the Columbus Division of Police, but it’s not the first time the city has taken on the initiative. In 2013 former mayor Michael Coleman ordered the department to try harder to diversify its ranks. Shortly thereafter, some of the requirements for passing the mandatory background check were loosened to allow a larger pool of applicants to qualify. The department now offers Tutoring and fitness training to help applicants pass the initial exam and starting salary and benefits are competitive. Sergeant Nicholson says he even meets with community leaders to discuss outreach strategies, but despite these efforts, the results he says, are not astounding.

“There hasn’t been an overwhelming amount of diversity breaking down the doors I should say,” said Nicholson.

 

The level of racial and ethnic minorities as measured by the Columbus Police department-- Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Indians--has stayed about the same for the past 12 years at under 15 percent---it’s even shrunk slightly in recent years. On a national level, over a quarter of local police belong to an ethnic or racial minority.

Bruce Henry, president of the Indianapolis chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, or NOBLE, says that around the country barriers can appear at many stages of the application process for local police departments.

“What we see on the front end is a difficulty in some of our applicant in passing that aptitude exam,” said Henry.

Influence, says henry could be another barrier when young people of color don’t often see themselves becoming police officers.

“A lot of times those barriers of perception are real barriers when people don’t see individuals in police uniform at all who look like them,” said Henry.

Back at the Columbus police academy, Levon Morefield, a recent academy graduate, says growing up he would have never considered a career in law enforcement. He’s worked as a Columbus police officer for about six months, but as a black man growing up in the Linden neighborhood he says being a police officer had a negative connotation.

"Police were always the enemy, we didn’t want anything to do with them, always showed them respect, however, it was a bad thing to be the police,” said Morefield.

Morefield says, one day that all changed when he was arrested as a juvenile. The officer who arrested him also reached out to him and was able to change his perception about the police.

“He Told me you know that, I wasn’t a bad kid,” said Morefield, “I was just becoming a product of my environment. And just through conversation with me he knows that I really want help and I really want to do good.”

Morefield says that’s what made him start thinking about a career in law enforcement. Now an officer, he talks with young people from his old neighborhood and explains why it can be an opportunity for them too. He’s says it’s really why he wanted to become an officer.

“Just being able to educate the youth and letting them know, hey this is what this job entails, you’re actually out here to help change people’s lives,” said Morefield.

Morefield and Bruce Henry agree, the first step to increasing diversity at local police departments may start with educating the next generation