AAPD works to increase lacking diversity among staff

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 8:28pm

According to a recent study of demographics within the Ann Arbor Police Department, the demographics of the city’s police force do not match those of the Ann Arbor community. In a city that is 69 percent white according to a 2010 census, a survey conducted earlier this year shows the AAPD is 87 percent white or Caucasian.

Several members of the AAPD explained the lack of diversity within the department seems to be the result of an even greater lack of diversity within the pool of graduates from the police academy. Lieutenant Mike Scherba said in the state of Michigan, about 97 percent of the academy graduates are white males.

“What we found traditionally is that those coming out of the police academy in this area are white males and the tentative pool for the police department is then obviously primarily white males,” Scherba said. “As a result, we had to then look and think: ‘How do we better represent the diversity within our city?’”

A need for diversity representative of the Ann Arbor populace has also been emphasized due to recent racially-charged incidents in AAPD, such as the shooting of Aura Rosser in 2014 and the violent arrest of high school student Ciaeem Slaton in September, leading Ann Arbor citizens to call for increased transparency in the AAPD as well as a police review board. At an October rally in support of Slaton, Ann Arbor resident DaQuann Harrison said the incidents involving Slaton and Rosser –– both Black residents of the city –– were representative of a larger problem that existed in Ann Arbor as well as the rest of the country.

“(Ciaeem) is one of many youth of color who are targeted by police in here,” he said. “His situation is also one of many that has historically appeared here in Ann Arbor.”  

Members of minority communities at the University of Michigan as well, including Rackham student Javier Solorzano Parada, have experienced a lack of communication and understanding with AAPD that they feel is not on par with the relationship between the police and white student communities. When students were arrested at a tailgate hosted by Solorzano Parada’s former fraternity, which is predominantly Latino, he said officers provided no explanation.

“Communication is key with communities of color, and you need to tell us it's not about race but safety, or size or whatever reason you may have,” he said. “And if I’m scared after all these years here, what must it be like for an undergraduate student? Or a first-generation student? We shouldn't have to be afraid of the police. We shouldn't have to live in fear.”

To combat the discrepancy between the community demographics and the lack of diversity within the AAPD, the department has responded by seeking to recruit a wider pool of candidates through extending their recruiting radius. Sergeant Jaime Crawford from the recruiting and hiring unit of the AAPD explained the department is actively looking for candidates from all over Michigan.

“We are really trying to broaden where we are recruiting from and the type of events we are attending,” Crawford said. “In the past, it was easier to recruit inasmuch as we didn’t have to do much because people were seeking out law enforcement as a career, and now that has changed so we are really trying to attend events at universities and we are going into more urban areas.”

Crawford said AAPD has begun recruiting at many colleges throughout the state, attending career fairs at the University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne State University, Ferris State University, Michigan State University and Mott Community College. Recruiters like Crawford seek to identify good candidates — even those who might not be ready to apply for several years — in order to develop awareness of opportunities within AAPD.

“We want to expose them to what the Ann Arbor Police Department is all about,” Crawford said. “We are highly regarded within the state and among other police departments so we really want to pull them in early and let them know what we have to offer.”

Part of how AAPD goes about recruiting is through maintaining diversity within the recruiting staff.

“We try to have diversity in our recruiters,” Crawford said. “Just so that the representatives we have from the Ann Arbor Police Department are approachable and can answer any questions or concerns that potential candidates might have. As a female, I get a lot of questions from females that are curious to know what it’s like in this field.”

Crawford went on to explain that while it is obviously a male-dominated environment, she has been afforded every opportunity.

“My experience with Ann Arbor has been phenomenal,” Crawford said.

Alongside pursuing potential candidates at universities, AAPD has also initiated a sponsorship program as another mode of promoting diversity. The program allows the city to assume the cost of the candidate attending the academy with the promise that when they graduate, they become an officer in AAPD. This has been helpful as Crawford said the academy itself can be a roadblock for potential candidates. It can be difficult for some to attend the academy due to the cost, which is about $7,000, combined with the fact students in the academy don’t have time to work during the training process.

Scherba cited two recent instances where the sponsor program has helped bring diversity into the force

“In our most recent process we identified one non-white male we intend to sponsor,” Scherba said. “Our most recent hire group included a female who we sponsored.”

While the change in numbers from 2014 to 2016 appeared bleak for the department, hiring solely white officers during that period. Crawford said diversity has since picked up in the hiring process.

“We just hired one brand new officer, non-white male, and we have another that is in the process right now,” Crawford said. “We just hired another female as well.”

The resurgence in diversity in the hiring process is timely considering the AAPD seems to be losing diversity through the retirement of several members. However, Scherba says the process of creating more diversity within the department is a gradual process with long-term effects.

“We are kind of in the more beginning stages of really starting to see the fruits of our effort,” Scherba said. “We are finally beginning to see some positive results. Getting more candidates is increasing our applicant pool so it’s only going to result in a better department for our community.”

The AAPD is in a state of transition, due to the transfer of AAPD Police Chief Jim Baird, who is relocating to Breckenridge, Colo. Meanwhile, the city is still in the process of determining his successor. While some may question how the transition between police chiefs may affect the AAPD’s momentum in pursuing diversity within the force, the City Administrator Howard Lazarus said they will undoubtedly select a chief who will be supportive of this goal.

“As we recruit a new police chief, we will recruit someone who reflects the values of Ann Arbor and city government,” Lazarus said. “We are an inclusive society that meets in an inclusive community, and we try to reflect that in all of our commissions. So whoever we recruit as the police chief will reflect those values.”