St. Louis commits to police diversity
by Rebecca Rivas
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
St. Louis legislators will put $50,000 behind a police training program that black police officers created this year to recruit more African Americans into the police academy, said Mayor Francis Slay at a press conference on November 4.
The Ethical Society of Police — a long-standing organization for black officers — will lead the 10-week mentoring program that aims to identify and prepare potential minority recruits for careers in law enforcement and other public safety professions.
“The ethical society is glad to be spearheading this initiative,” said Srgt. Darren Wilson, an African-American 18-year veteran of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and president of the Ethical Society of Police.
In January, Wilson and other society members started mentoring potential candidates through an informal pilot program.
“We ran this for several months,” Wilson said. “We started with 10 and were only able to endorse two — to let you know the dynamics of the program and what we’re looking for as far as the caliber of the applicants we feel comfortable endorsing.”
Slay said his office is entering into an agreement with the Ethical Society of Police to help launch the program full force. The initiative will pay African-American officers to work, while off duty, to identify potential quality recruits and prepare them to go through the academy. The money for the program will come out of the Prop S fund, and aldermen will introduce a bill to allocate those funds soon, Slay said.
The 10-week course will include writing and interviewing skills, fitness, professional etiquette and community-oriented policing strategies.
Slay said, “We’ve seen the mistrust that can exist” when police officers do not reflect the people in the neighborhoods that they patrol.
In July, the Ethical Society released a statement criticizing the demographics of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – saying that for the last 30 years, African-American officers have only made up 30 percent of the force.
Under Police Chief Sam Dotson and Slay’s leadership, the society said, “The department’s level of diversity has remained stagnant in regards to recruitment, promotion and representation: Police academy classes continue with five or six minority recruits in classes of 20 or more officers.”
Dotson said in the last two police academy classes, 50 percent of the cadets have been African Americans. And he will make sure future classes reflect those numbers as well.
“I will not do a police academy class that is not 50 percent African-American,” Dotson said. “I believe that that is reflective of the community. If that means I have to wait a couple of weeks to get qualified applicants on either side, I will. But I also have to make sure that it is reflective of the community.”
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, said the program should be replicated throughout the region. He said the common excuse offered by police leaders – that they cannot find qualified black applicants – would no longer be tenable.