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5 steps to cultivate diversity in law enforcement

Applying the concepts of farming provides a solid strategy for successful recruiting and retention in policing

Highly publicized events between law enforcement and members of the community have brought extra attention to the demographic composition of law enforcement agencies. Agencies around the country are looking for ways to recruit diverse candidates to their organizations. According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 27 percent of the police officers are people of color in comparison to 36 percent of the country’s population being people of color.

Most estimates indicate that by 2050 there will be parity between people of color and whites in terms of our country’s population. As we move in that direction, the public and members of our profession are pressing upon us to diversify our profession.

The national focus of late is on recruitment but retention is just as important and yet is often not discussed. Your recruitment efforts may be for naught if your agency is unable to retain its existing diverse employees. So, listed below are five keys for recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. We’re really talking about cultivating a diverse workforce, so I have framed the steps below in the theme of farming.

1. Examine Your Soil
Before any other farming activity takes place, the farmer must first examine the soil to determine if it will support what he or she is attempting to cultivate. In terms of recruiting, this means examining your agency’s reputation within your community. If your reputation with your community is bad, you will have to fertilize and till the soil before you start planting seeds. Your main strategy for fertilizing your soil should focus on building trust between your agency and those you serve.

Building trust is not something that happens overnight but it can be accomplished by being transparent and focusing on relationship building. The key here is to be as transparent as legally possible with your community. Agencies often say they are being transparent but their communities often say they are not.

You will know if you’ve done this right if people in your community are willing to have their family members work for your organization.

2. Plant Some Seeds
Planting seeds in the recruiting sense means engaging children in elementary school, middle school, and high school. Planting seeds about the goodness of our profession in people when they are young is vital to recruiting diverse candidates.

Diverse communities have to begin to see this as a viable profession and it’s easier for us to recruit when we get to them when they’re young. As with building your agency’s reputation, planting seeds will take some time, but if done correctly there will be a desired harvest.

3. Tend to the Crops
After you plant seeds, you need to water them and protect them from parasitic bugs and weeds. Those parasitic bugs and weeds are the negative influences that diverse candidates may hear regarding our profession. We have to spend as much time with diverse youth as possible to protect our “seeds” from these parasitic bugs and weeds. As with farming, this will require an all hands on deck approach. All members of your agency should never pass up an opportunity to have a positive interaction with a diverse member of your community. The parasitic bugs and weeds (law enforcement haters) are persistent and they don’t go away easy, so tending to your crops will likely be difficult, but it is necessary to have a good harvest.

4. Harvest Your Crops
After all of your hard work, this is where you reap the rewards. This may be the most difficult part of the process. This may also be the most contentious part of the process. Deciding who gets hired is a tough decision, especially when you may have to choose diverse candidates over non-diverse candidates who have family legacies associated with your department. If you choose not to hire diverse candidates after investing in them, you can be rest assured that other agencies will.

5. Protect Your Harvest
If you fail to protect your harvest all of your hard work will go to waste and others (agencies) may even come and steal the harvest from you. Strategies to retain officers of color should involve eliminating their actual and or perceived unfair treatment.

According to the Level Playing Field Institute, people of color are three times more likely to cite workplace unfairness as their sole reason for leaving an employer in comparison to Caucasians. The same study also found that more than 80 percent of those who left an organization for being unfairly treated discouraged others from joining their former employer.

As you can see, not protecting your harvest could potentially hinder your efforts to recruit a diverse workforce. Being passed over for specialty assignments, promotions, and not receiving career development are the main areas that officers of color often cite as how they were unfairly treated. Your strategy for retaining officers of color may focus on ensuring fairness in those three areas.

These five steps will take some time. I would suggest implementing them in three, six, and nine-year increments. If you start prepping the soil with high school seniors and first or second-year college students, you should expect a harvest within three years. If you start working with high school freshman, you could expect a harvest within six years.

Applying the cyclical concepts of farming — soil prep, seed planting, tending to the crops, harvesting, and protecting the harvest — should provide a solid foundation for a successful recruiting and retention strategy.

Bloomington Police Department Chief Booker Hodges has worked as a school resource officer, patrol deputy, narcotics detective, SWAT operator, patrol overnight watch commander, inspector, undersheriff, acting chief deputy, an assistant public safety commissioner and now chief of police.

Prior to joining the Bloomington Police Department in April of 2022, he served with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Lake Police Department and the Ramsey and Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. He has led agencies ranging from 40 to 1,500 staff members.