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Police force diversity

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"That's the way we promote, too," he said. "We don't say 'this is a white guy promotion.' We don't want to get into that. We want to look at who is the best person and who is the most qualified to be hired today, and basically be colorblind. But we do want to actively recruit applicants from minorities."

In other words, while departments such as the sheriff's office work to bring more diversity into the application pool, those that make the cut and who are retained are based on performance and skills. And while such practices can be inclusive, they also are exclusive in their hiring.

The recruiting and hiring process is part of the challenge for law enforcement agencies that are working to attract diverse candidates, said Wayne State University's Smith.

"There are a variety of challenges," he said. "First, racial and ethnic groups in economically disadvantaged areas tend to be disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system. Many agencies have pretty thorough background checks, and they exclude people for felonies, for drunk driving, and even misdemeanor charges," Smith said. "If a kid gets caught with alcohol and gets a minor in possession ticket, as an adult he may not be able to get a job in a lot of police agencies. That screens out a lot of kids from poorer backgrounds because they are more likely to have a bad encounter with police."

The scenario also raises the issue of having negative relations with police. While some folks are raised with the notion that police officers are friends that can be trusted and are there to help, others are raised in a culture of being fearful or consider the police simply disrespectful. Such a situation obviously does little to encourage a career in law enforcement.

Michigan State Police First Lt. Robert Hendrix is currently responsible for recruiting and selection in a newly developed position designed to create diversity among potential candidates and the department.

"In today's times, it's a harder sell than it has been before," Hendrix said about recruiting. "We are looking for folks that are service minded and want to give back to their communities, not just criminal justice majors."

Black and raised in Detroit, Hendrix said the state police department had an appeal to him that wasn't present in the local Detroit department.

"I was going to be an electrical engineer. I ended up staying in that job until I learned the state police were hiring. I knew state police were different than the Detroit Police Department where I grew up. The next thing I knew, I was in recruit school. I was 28 at the time.

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