Chandler police recognizes value of community - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Chandler police recognizes value of community

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Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005 9:25 am

February 10, 2005

Over the last three years, six women, four Hispanics and an Asian have become Chandler police officers. So have 33 white men. According to Chandler officials, recruiting qualified people into law enforcement is difficult.

The problem is that fewer people than ever are interested in getting into law enforcement and those who are often aren’t qualified, said Chandler detective Scott Picquet, who helps recruit, test and investigate candidates.

On top of that, it’s important they reflect the communities they protect.

Last November, 145 people began testing to become Chandler cops. Of those, 47 were minorities and women. They included 22 Hispanics, eight blacks, two Asians, two American Indians and one Pacific Islander. Eighteen women applied, 12 of them white.

Of the six applicants still in the running, five of them are white and one is Hispanic. All of them are men.

"If I knew 100 percent that I could find 10 qualified females to work for us tomorrow, I’d be all over it. I’d be happy if I could find 10 qualified candidates period," Picquet said.

The Tribune has been following the group since the beginning as part of a series exploring everything from the testing process to the rigors of the police academy to the reality of life on the streets.

These recruits aren’t much different from past groups or groups from other agencies, statistics show.

Over the last three years, between 21 percent and 23 percent of Chandler’s applicants have been minorities and women. Anywhere from 14 percent to 20 percent of them have been hired.

In Mesa, the numbers are similar. Roughly 25 percent of that city’s applicants have been minorities and women and anywhere from 15 percent to 20 percent have been hired.

Hiring minorities and women isn’t just about being politically correct.

A police agency that isn’t diverse is likely to suffer from a plethora of problems, said Elaine Deck of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

"A cultural divide happens and misunderstandings," Deck said. "The community of color will sometimes feel they are being targeted and the officers will just think they’re trying to do a good job. There will be a missed opportunity for cultural awareness and sensitivity that can grow and benefit the officers in their work."

Chandler has already experienced some of that pain.

In August 1997, a $35 million class-action lawsuit was filed against the Chandler Police Department after officers rounded up and questioned hundreds of Hispanics in the downtown area.

The lawsuit claimed the department wanted to scare poor, "undesirable" Hispanics away to make room for redevelopment.

The lawsuit was later settled, but the roundup continues to be a topic of discussion in Chandler, where 21 percent of the population is Hispanic.

Despite the past, Picquet said, the department is committed to hiring only the best candidates — regardless of race or gender. Currently, 13 percent of the department’s sworn officers are either women, minorities or both.

"We don’t hire someone just because they are Hispanic, just because they are Asian or just because they are American Indian, but we recognize that our community has those people in it and we want a fair representation," he said.

Every year, department representatives attend job fairs, visit universities and community colleges and go to any event they believe they’ll find job candidates.

Joel Munter, the chairman of the Human Relations Commission, which was reestablished after the roundup in 1997, said Chandler’s police numbers are promising.

"I’m pleased that the department looks at demographic trends and compares their own diversity numbers with the community’s," Munter said. "I feel comfortable that the police department pays attention to the Hispanic community and goes into the community in a proactive manner."

Munter also is pleased that police officials regularly attend commission meetings and promptly respond to requests for data.

Ken Davis, a faculty associate in Arizona State University’s sociology department, said having a department that is culturally diverse doesn’t mean problems won’t arise.

Many years ago, a member of the Black Panthers group was killed in Chicago, Davis said. It was later learned black officers were involved.

Deck, with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the agencies that do well in recruiting minorities are those that go beyond putting ads in magazines and newspapers.

They are the agencies that reach out to communities and make cultural diversity a part of their mission, she said.

In Fairfax, Va., for example, police officials visited Korean churches and events after noticing a large increase in their Korean population.

"They wanted to create an interface, an opportunity to create relationships and from those meetings, they met several candidates who were interested in becoming police officers," Deck said.

A police department could easily find itself in trouble by simply patrolling a particular street at the request of a Neighborhood Watch group — if no one else knows why they are there, Deck said.

"What would the African American community think if they were patrolled 10 times higher than a white, suburban community? They’d think their police department is trying to create trouble, or that they’re profiling them, not giving them a chance, that they’re trying to bait them into doing something wrong," Deck said.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are common, Davis said.

"An Hispanic young man who encounters an Anglo officer might think ‘I’m not going to get a fair shake because he’s an Anglo officer’ and the Anglo officer might think ‘Oh, here’s another unemployed or underemployed youth up to no good,’ " Davis said.

As a result, the Hispanic youth will develop an attitude and the white officer will end up arresting him for disobeying a command, Davis said.

On a larger scale, events such as the Japanese interment camps during World War II, the Rodney King riots and the roundup of Arab-Americans after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are never far from the public’s consciousness, Davis said.

In the end, police agencies have to make every effort to build bridges, he said.

Ideally, school resource officer programs would be expanded to "bust the stereotypes" as early in a young person’s life as possible, Davis said.

Chandler detective George Arias, who is Hispanic, said his department is doing a lot to build bridges with the minority community.

The department pays for officers to attend Spanish classes and educates officers about different cultures, Arias said.

For example, many Hispanics feel more comfortable speaking with male officers than female officers because female officers are rare in Mexico, Arias said.

Also, officers can often get better results dealing with a black teen by speaking with his or her mother than the father, said Sgt. Sunny Wilkins, who is black.

Arias said he tries to let Hispanics know officers are ready to serve them — whether they are legal residents or not.

"A lot of the Hispanic folks who have been here a long time keep bringing up the roundup and we’re trying to bring down the walls that were put up," Arias said. "We try to tell them that we need them as much as they need us. We need to know what’s going on in their community."

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