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With no new black cops this year, how St. Paul Police can diversify its ranks

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There are no black men in the St. Paul Police Department’s newest class of officers. Though three enrolled in the four-month police academy, none completed, the Pioneer Press reported. One bowed out for a better job offer. Another had health issues. The third didn’t meet the requirements.

After a year and a half of high-profile shootings of unarmed black people by white officers across the country, one major suggestion for reform is to have departments hire more officers who reflect the communities they serve – inner city cops for the inner city, black cops for black neighborhoods.

St. Paul Police have been adding more Asian – especially Hmong – officers in recent years. The 2014 academy class was about 32 percent people of color and women. In 2015, the academy began with 62 percent people of color and women. But when it comes to retaining African American men specifically, the department is fighting an uphill battle against generational mistrust.

So what should St. Paul be doing to convince young black people to join the force?

Keith Humphrey, the police chief in Norman, Oklahoma and regional president of the National Black Police Association, says police have to admit they’ve got a problem. Then they have to start selling careers in law enforcement to black colleges, black churches, and black neighborhood organizations.

“There are communities where minority stakeholders do not want to be a part of law enforcement because of the reputation that some departments have,” Humphrey says. “As African American officers, we have to go out into the community, listen to these issues, and bring them back to the department so they can address them. You can’t just have a class with one or two minorities and say you’ve fixed the problem.”

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That’s not to say St. Paul Police recruiters should be pounding the streets with applications in hand, beckoning able-bodied youth to sign up for a life of fighting crime. Becoming a police officer in Minnesota requires a two-year degree in law enforcement, a skills test, and a state exam before one can even apply.  

Since 2014, St. Paul has been partnering with the National Black Police Association to get tips on attracting black officers. The department's full-time recruiter goes to black churches and their job fairs, the Rondo Days festival and Cinco de Mayo. St. Paul Schools sends high school kids on tours of their neighborhood police precincts. At Johnson High School, the school resource officer doubles as the head basketball coach. The East and West African youth academy is a talent recruiting tool for immigrant communities. The Explorer program, the cop version of Boy Scouts, tries to keep high schoolers on the straight and narrow in hopes they will apply someday.

"One officer grew up in Frogtown and got involved in Explorers. He grew up in a community where it would have been easy to make some wrong choices, but thanks to this program he’s on track, went to school, and he’s an officer with this department right now," says St. Paul Police spokesman Steve Linders. "We want more of those success stories, so we have to be in contact with people who are interested in law enforcement at every step of their career to keep them on track and to make sure they don’t say… 'There are too many barriers, I’m going to be an accountant.'"