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Police force diversity

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Often criticized as one of the metro Detroit locations for Caucasians fleeing urban Detroit, Oakland County has been a landing strip for white flight from the city for decades. Today, with a population of about 1.2 million people, according to the latest U.S. Census numbers, about 76.9 percent of Oakland County's residents are white, compared to 80 percent of the state's 9.9 million residents. Yet about 15 percent of the county's largest law enforcement agency, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, are considered minorities. That figure increases to slightly more than 26 percent if women are included. Those percentages include only sworn officers, which are certified peace officers through the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which licenses all law enforcement officers in the state.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said his office works to recruit a diverse workforce. Doing so, he said, is healthy both for the department and the communities it serves.

"Demographically, if you look at the last numbers, the Hispanic and African American population is about 16 or 17 percent in Oakland County, so we are pretty darn close to being reflective," Bouchard said. "I think it's helpful to have a diverse workforce in order to have different perspectives of a situation. Everyone grows up with their own kind of optics. If you have 30 different optics looking a situation, you might get 30 different perspectives, and that's helpful. It also helps us connect with the communities we serve."

Census figures for Oakland County in 2013 indicate the African American population makes up about 14.4 percent of the county, while the Hispanic population accounts for about 3.7 percent of the total. However, the Asian population in Oakland County accounts for about 6.3 percent of the total population, while people of two or more other races make up approximately 2.1 percent of the county's population.

Bouchard said the department doesn't go so far as to break down ethnic minority groups into smaller categories. Regardless, he said the department works to encourage people from all groups to consider a career in law enforcement. In addition to attending job and recruiting fairs, Bouchard said the office is trying to spark interest in a police/military-centric education program in Pontiac.

"It would be good to encourage more people to think about it," Bouchard said. "I know we've been to at least eight job fairs this year."

Despite efforts in recruiting, Bouchard said the department hires the best people, without regard to any optics.

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