Police departments across the state struggle with diversity, consider application standards

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NEW HAVEN –Police departments nationwide have struggled with diversity, and some are looking at changing policies to allow for more recruits who may have atypical backgrounds.

One department facing diversity issues is the Connecticut State Police, but efforts to change that haven’t been that successful.

Blacks and Hispanics comprise about a third of trooper applicants and about a quarter of the state’s population, but only 10 percent of the force — the base set three decades ago after the agency was sued. Since 2004, nearly 4,500 blacks and 4,200 Hispanics have applied to be Connecticut troopers, but only 28 African-Americans and 38 Hispanics have graduated from the academy, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. During that same period, 15,000 whites applied and 527 graduated from the academy.

State police officials say they have increased efforts to recruit minorities, but many don’t make it through the hiring and testing process — including a background check, lie detector and physical agility tests, and a written exam designed to assess logical reasoning, reading ability, communication skills and other personal traits. Officials also cited stiff competition; many candidates end up taking jobs at other departments.

Trooper First Class Kelly Grant said the physical agility test often becomes the hardest aspect for many people that apply.

“People come into it unfortunately thinking that they are ready, they are set, they are physically fit, they are prepared, and they realize sometimes that maybe it's a little harder than they had anticipated,” she said.

The process to join state police can be rigorous and take several years, so she recommends applying right away as the department is actively recruiting.

“We recruit everywhere we can possibly think of to bring in the population that we need to reflect our communities,” Trooper Grant said. “We do have recruiting at colleges, we have recruiting through the military, we start in high school.”

Recruiting with a focus on diversity. Trooper Grant said state police have held informational seminars in the past open to all people, but meant to attract minorities like females.

New Haven Police Interim Chief Anthony Campbell said the department takes a similar approach.

“We're trying to reach out to the minority community,” Campbell said. “Particularly in a city like New Haven where we have 33 percent African American, 27 percent Hispanic, we believe our police department should reflect the community.”

According to Campbell, 55 percent of the police department is Caucasian.

“One of the things that's a difficulty is that historically when people think about police and minority relationships when you trace it back far enough it had always been kind of an adversarial relationship,” he said. “So, it is our job to help the minority community and women in particular to understand that we welcome them.”

Meanwhile, other departments around the country are relaxing age-old standards for accepting recruits, from lowering educational requirements to forgiving some prior drug use, to try to attract more people to their ranks.

The changes are designed to deal with decreased interest in a job that offers low pay, rigorous physical demands and the possibility of getting killed on duty all while under intense public scrutiny.

For now, both New Haven and State Police said standards will remain high.

“We need people who are going to come in and they're gonna uphold the law, that they're gonna enforce that law and that they themselves upheld the law prior to becoming a state trooper,” Grant said.

“We're not gonna lower our standards, because it’s important for all police departments to have the highest standards when it comes to recruiting their officers,” Campbell said.

There’s no national standard for becoming a police officer, it’s up to each state to make its own requirements.

Campbell did tell FOX 61 the department is looking at recruiting practices, reaching out to more communities. It is also looking at its policies with regard to psychological testing, background investigations and the drug policy in relation to marijuana, now that the use of it has been largely decriminalized in Connecticut.

“Our drug policy states that you cannot have used certain drugs within a certain time frame, one of the things that many policies talk about is marijuana,” he said. “We're looking at that drug policy along the lines of time frame. Some places will have a drug policy that says if you've used marijuana at any time during your college career or beyond a certain point, in your college career, you're automatically disqualified, other department.”

He believes if the application process can be as efficient and fair as possible, the department will draw in more high caliber candidates.

Campbell said only 67 of the city’s 452 officers are from New Haven, so there will be a push to recruit more officers from the Elm City.

“We believe that the best way to police a community is with members from that community, that's truly what community policing is all about.”

Its most recent class has the largest number of New Haven residents, in years.

State Police are actively recruiting and encourage the public to apply since the process to get in does take time.

New Haven is budgeted for 494 officers and is working to get to that number; however, it recruits every two years and is not actively recruiting at this time.