Arizona Police Leaders: Forces Should Be Diverse To Match Communities They Serve
Law enforcement officials around the country are paying closer attention to how they police their communities in light of several high-profile shootings and incidents involving officers nationwide.
Though nothing that compares to the issues encountered in places like Dallas, Baltimore and Tulsa, recent action against police violence here in the Valley has resulted in the closure of roads and the arrest of some protesters.
It’s also leading Arizona’s law enforcement community into a new reality for American policing.
More than 35 agencies — including city, county, state and tribal forces from around the state — were represented last month at the Law Enforcement Appreciation Luncheon in Phoenix. The annual event is put on by the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS).
Though the first thing you can’t help but notice in the room of chiefs, commanders and lieutenants is that it’s very white.
Roy Minter is the exception. He’s the African-American chief of Peoria’s force.
“One of the things that’s really important to us in the law enforcement profession is not just diversity at the top of the organization, but diversity at all levels in the organization and that really stresses the importance of recruiting a very diverse candidate," he said.
And Minter said that’s easier than it sounds.
“You still have a lot of people in different communities that are interested in this outstanding, fabulous career," said Minter.
But he and others at the event admit that departments around the Valley and state need to do a better job of connecting with those candidates.
“You have to have a diverse police to understand the issues in the community,” said John Meza, who is the police chief in Arizona’s third largest city, Mesa. “You see most police agencies trying to change that.”
“In Mesa, we have really robust policing efforts, we changed the model of how we do the hiring process to attract more minority officers, because you really want your police force to reflect your communities," Meza said.
What’s also readily apparent is the lack of females in the room of law enforcement honchos. The only woman present is Sylvia Moir, Tempe’s chief.
“I think diversity is about something more than simply race, culture and gender. It’s about experience, education, perspective and an array of things that aren’t often considered at first blush,” said Moir.
Chief Moir was named to her position earlier this year. And she has already faced criticism from members of the black community over her department’s handling of the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Dalvin Hollins, killed while suspected of committing a robbery back in July.
They’ve even asked for her resignation. While she isn’t stepping down, Moir admits departments like hers have work to improve trust.
“I think it’s absolutely in the consciousness of everyone across this nation. Most of us recognize that police officers are one part of a criminal justice system. We do bear the brunt of much of the frustration because we’re the visible symbol," she said.
Richard Bradshaw, a commander on Glendale’s force, said incidents around the country involving officers have helped open a new dialogue with his crew.
“We have those conversations with our officers in general to say that some of the negativity that’s out there isn’t necessarily directed specifically at you or your agency, but you have to understand it, you have to respect that that feeling is out there,” Bradshaw said.
The controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy has recently brought up in the presidential debates. It was declared unconstitutional in New York, where the practice — deemed to single out minorities disproportionately — began.
Bradshaw contends his department’s policy is more like stop and talk.
“What we try to do to encourage our officers is to have conversations with people when it’s not necessarily criminally related, and I think if you do that, everything else seems to fall in line," he said.
And Mesa’s John Meza said he hopes the end result of the controversies will lead to a better understanding of the difficult job of modern policing.
“Obviously use-of-force issues are the ones that make the headlines, and we need to deal with — but I really wish the community could see all the good things that officers do and the sacrifices that they make every day,” Meza said. “Because the officers that are coming out feel this is a calling and they want to serve.”
The question remains whether his force and others in Arizona can recruit more diverse candidates to reflect the communities they police.
A national survey conducted last year by Governing Magazine found huge gaps in minority officers compared to minority representation, with differences of over 30 percent in cities, including Phoenix and Glendale.