Editorial: Worcester Police recognized for recruiting gains

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One week ago, the U.S. Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released “Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement.”

The 81-page report “examines barriers and promising practices – in recruitment, hiring and retention – for advancing diversity in law enforcement.”

“Ensuring that law enforcement agencies represent the diversity of the communities they serve can help restore trust and improve policing,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said. “Building on innovative and creative strategies implemented by law enforcement around the country, our report highlights how agencies are bridging divides and creating lasting results.”

A view of downtown Worcester

Wikimedia Commons

A view of downtown Worcester

“When law enforcement agencies remove barriers to equal opportunity, the agencies and the diverse communities that they serve both stand to benefit,” EEOC chair Jenny R. Yang said.

The Worcester Police Department was one of 10 departments nationwide lauded for their efforts in recruiting a more diverse workforce.

According to the report:

“The Worcester (Massachusetts) Police Department organizes application process workshops and conducts outreach to religious and faith-based organizations, local colleges, veterans and minority-owned businesses, and community-based social service agencies including those serving Southeast-Asian (primarily Vietnamese), African-American and Latino communities.

“In addition to engaging potential applicants from these communities that are underrepresented within the police department, these workshops are targeted to particular members of historically underrepresented communities, including, for example, highly esteemed Vietnamese community elders who share information with their grandchildren and other family members or social workers who share their knowledge of the application process with their clients.

“These outreach efforts reflect the police chief’s specific focus on increasing diversity among the department’s ranks. With the added benefit of an intact consent decree in place for the Worcester Police Department, these efforts have paid dividends: in 2015, the department reported that, out of the all men who took the civil service exam, 37 percent were men of color; out of all women who took the exam, 56 percent were women of color.”

“Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement” report [81 pages]

In announcing the national recognition, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., said, “We know diversifying our police force is a long-term process, but we are committed to it. I’m proud we’re beginning to see the fruits of those efforts. We will always seek to hire the most qualified person for the job, and it is my belief that if we broaden our available pool of candidates to traditionally underrepresented groups, we will have a more qualified workforce that better reflects the community they serve.”

Edward M. Augustus Jr.

Courtesy NAMI Mass

Edward M. Augustus Jr.

In the same announcement, Chief Steven M. Sargent said, “We are proud to be recognized for our efforts to enhance the diversity of our department. We will continue to build upon our successful recruitment strategies to create a police force that reflects the diversity of the community.”

“Proactive and targeted community outreach efforts can help encourage people from diverse populations and walks of life to consider careers in law enforcement,” the report stated. “A law enforcement agency’s existing workforce, particularly its cadre of sworn officers, is one of their most valuable recruitment tools. Yet these agencies recognize that effective recruitment means deploying these officers in a manner that will yield an applicant pool that is not only qualified for the job but also reflective of the broader community.”

In Worcester’s case, those efforts are led by Sgt. Miguel Lopez.

Lopez, according to the city, “leads the Worcester Police Department’s recruitment efforts by organizing informational presentations about the Police Civil Service Exam at various sites throughout the city. Sgt. Lopez has connected with churches, colleges, small minority-owned businesses, nonprofits, civil-rights organizations and other community stakeholders to ensure that information about the civil service process and police applicant process reaches every segment of the community. Sgt. Lopez has also worked with the NAACP and Black Clergy Alliance to provide outreach about the exam.”

We believe the city’s approach is the proper one. Implicit in a broadened pool of applicants is the understanding that the workforce will become stronger. However, there’s more to it than that.

Central to the promise of equality of opportunity is the knowledge and understanding that underrepresented communities are welcome in the hiring process and will be treated fairly throughout that process. Unfortunately and historically, this has not been the case.

Reversing that is not easy since it requires real change to the process combined with real change to the public perception of the process. These are mutually exclusive. The former can be achieved by strong leadership, as demonstrated by Augustus, Sargent and former Chief Gary Gemme. The latter is more difficult because perceptions can change only when there is trust.

In this regard, we commend Lopez and other police officers who by their hard work and outreach have demonstrated that when it does come to hiring the only barrier is the one that matters most: merit.

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