Tackling law enforcement’s recruitment dilemma

The Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust meeting with the Grand Rapids Police Department on Thursday. (May 14, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Earlier this week, Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinksy said one third of the department will be eligible for retirement in as early as three years — that is nearly 100 officers.

While the retirement will create a large hole to fill, it could also bring an opportunity to make the department look more like the community it serves.

And while there is an ongoing effort to move the ideas for minority recruitment from talk to action, taking advantage of that opportunity is not as simple as it seems — especially with unrest in the streets in places like Baltimore.

Deon Atkins remembers a similar situation on a smaller scale 12 years ago.

Atkins, who is African American, was a kid growing up in Benton Harbor when on a June night in 2003 riots broke out after a black motorcyclist was killed during a police chase. He remembers Michigan State troopers marching down the street, but his reaction was different than those rioting that night.

“To me it is like, that’s cool. They are professional. They are not disrespecting anybody. They are doing their job,” said Atkins, a Grand Haven Safety cadet and recent Grand Valley State University criminal justice graduate.

GRPD Sgt. Terry Dixon was once a TV news photographer, but as a young journalist he realized there was only so much he could do to make the world a better place — that was 17 years ago.

“I looked at law enforcement officers and how they play such an important part in helping people. I wanted to be part of that,” said Dixon.

Atkins and Dixon are both men of color, and both wearing a badge in a time when young minorities are growing up with a much different image of law enforcement.

Most police and community leaders agree that a police force that better reflects the community could help avoid problems like we have seen lately. But how do you recruit in the minority community when they see pictures of discord?

“I feel like a lot of people complain about the situation. Instead of doing that, we should want to be the change,” said Atkins, who was part of a recent meeting of Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust.

ALPACT, for short, is working towards relations between the community and police in Grand Rapids.

The group met Thursday to talk strategy, including ways at doing a better job of recruiting minority law enforcement candidates.

GRPD has been sending officers into schools, and working on ways to recruit through social networks. The community component of ALPACT is also working on ideas.

They are unique. We are not right now ready to share with the public,” said Urban League President and CEO Joe Jones.

But others warn the recruitment effort has to be more than pointing potential candidates to a website.

“You have to spend some time with them. You know, sit down, personal time,” said Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Robert Hendrix.

And the effort will not have a quick payoff.

“It will take time,” said Dixon. “This is not something that will happen overnight. It will take consistency, but we can make that happen.”

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