Wanted in the Valley: Diverse
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 17, 2004
Cities compete for female, minority
Valley police agencies are amplifying efforts to recruit hundreds of new
officers, touting tuition-reimbursement programs, extra pay for speaking a
second language and even a $1,500 hiring bonus.
The underlying push, Phoenix police Sgt. Tony Lopez said, is to attract more
women and minorities, who continue to be underrepresented at just about every
law enforcement agency in Maricopa County.
"The police are policing all of the community, and they are going to have more
legitimacy and respect and personal relationships if they're reflecting the
diversity of the community," said Lorie Fridell, research director for the
Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C.
"The key would be in how the public receives police department intervention. The
key is that the community will have confidence in them to place the calls and to
share information about crimes."
Valley agencies have long struggled to reflect the diversity of the communities
they serve, and the glut of openings could finally change that. Cities such as
Phoenix are pouring more time and money than ever into trying to right
demographic imbalances in their police departments, particularly among
recruiting for the Phoenix Police Department. "The challenge for us is to fill
them with diversity rather than the status quo."
Yet competition for qualified applicants, particularly minorities, is fierce as
law enforcement agencies struggle to keep up with explosive growth and an
anticipated surge in retirements in some cities. Phoenix alone needs to hire 600
officers in the next three years but is dealing with a drop in applicants since
two officers were killed in a shootout in August.
As many as 300 applicants need to take the police test just to fill an academy
class of 20.
Phoenix's recruiting budget increased more than 15 percent this year, and an
extra $25,000 is earmarked for next year. The Police Department has spent more
than $900,000 on recruiting since 2001. Much of the increase has been to target
women and minorities. Because police are constantly scrutinized and rely on
citizen cooperation to solve crimes, diversity becomes even more crucial, Lopez
"The community has the expectation that the police force will look like them,"
he said. "If 50 percent of the community is purple, then we should be trying to
make sure 50 percent of the police force is purple."
None of the 17 Valley agencies surveyed by The Arizona Republic even comes close
to reflecting the gender makeup of the communities they serve. And even though
Hispanics make up the largest minority group in Arizona, only two agencies,
Paradise Valley and Goodyear, fully represent the percentage of Hispanics in
Experts say if a department is out of sync with the community it serves, it can
create the appearance that it is discriminatory and fuel distrust. Minority
residents may be far less willing to help solve crimes. And racial tensions can
flare, particularly when officers use force against a minority resident.
It's an issue not only of color but of language and of understanding cultural
differences that affect how people react and perceive things.
"It's always a more comfortable feeling to know that you're dealing with someone
who's similar," said Phoenix police Officer Chris Abril, who serves as a liaison
between his police precinct and the predominantly Hispanic Garfield
neighborhood. "Oftentimes people of Hispanic descent look at me and perhaps feel
a closeness. They're able to relate. . . . They realize we are people who have
experienced much of the things they're experiencing now. . . . I think they
Julian Claudio Nabozny, a south Phoenix businessman and co-chairman of the
Phoenix police's Hispanic Advisory Board, said the intention is to build trust
"so our community would share information with police as it relates to crime."
"The PD needs the cooperation of the Hispanic citizens in our community,"
Nabozny said. "Unless they build trust, that won't happen."
As a result, agencies such as Phoenix have tried to recruit minorities more
aggressively. Phoenix's recruiters have, for the first time, begun recruiting at
Hispanic community events. They advertise in Spanish-language newspapers and
will soon air their first ad on a Spanish radio station.
Recruiters target colleges and military bases and regularly travel to places
like Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso to try to lure applicants to Phoenix. The
city recently relaxed its lateral transfer policy to make it easier for
out-of-state officers to relocate to Phoenix. The city boasts an extra $10 an
hour for knowing a second language and offers tuition reimbursement and elevated
pay for those who get college degrees and stay on the force longer than six
Lopez said he'd like to sweeten the pot even more by offering a hiring bonus to
candidates who are fluent in a second language. And he wants to add two more
"There are ideas you can get from a diverse workforce that you can't get from
all one race or all one member," Lopez said. "It's the right thing to do."
Other incentives offered across the Valley also could help woo minority
recruits. Mesa recently boosted its police starting salary 12 percent, to
$41,527, and began offering evening written tests. Gilbert is offering a $1,500
bonus for recruits. And Glendale, like Phoenix, is offering physical agility
clinics to those concerned about meeting the physical qualifications.
Just about every Wednesday morning, Phoenix police Officer Leah Kasper meets
potential recruits at the academy to teach them how to get over a 6-foot wall,
part of the physical agility test. This year, nearly 13 percent of applicants
have failed the written test, and about 60 percent fail the physical agility
test on the first try.
Evita Holmes, 35, a probation officer who recently tried to scale the wall just
to see if she could, said that women and minorities offer a different
perspective and that seeing them on the streets could change how minority
communities perceive law officers.
"We can only help when we can communicate with the families and the communities
and they can let us into their lives," Holmes said.
Phoenix, which has the Valley's largest law enforcement unit, remains nearly 81
percent Anglo and ranks last among the nation's 10 largest cities for the ratio
of minority officers to residents, according to a U.S. Department of Justice
study, released in 2002. For the ratio of Hispanic officers to residents, only
Las Vegas was lower than Phoenix.
"People look at that if they're a minority themselves," Officer Johnny Chavez
"Even the basic understanding or knowledge of ethnicity is a plus. Then again,
to have grown up Black, Hispanic or Asian, it's rooted within you, so you may
have a better understanding of some things."
Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator who now hosts a daily Latino issues
show on Radio Campesina, said the rapid changes in the Hispanic and immigrant
populations have made it nearly impossible for police agencies to keep up.
Still, he said, police agencies must continue to make it a priority to have
Spanish-speaking officers on every shift and to educate about cultural
"It's not merely translating language. It's translating culture as well,"
Gutierrez said. "It's important that the entire force be aware of all those
differences, all those cultural sensitivities, or insensitivities, that can
create so many problems when none should exist."
For potential recruits like Nina Almeida, the push to attract women and
minorities means that in exchange for wearing a badge and gun, Phoenix would pay
for the graduate degree she wants.
"I'm thinking about it," said Almeida, a senior at Arizona State University. "We
need to have more women on the force. We need a more diverse Police Department,
especially in areas like Phoenix. . . . I could see myself in a uniform.