With diversity key in community policing, recruiting a challenge

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The dilemma facing just about everyone in law enforcement, from veteran officers to those just putting on the badge, was highlighted during the virtual graduation ceremony of recruits with the Grand Rapid’s Community College Police Academy last month.

“It’s sad, but it’s reality. And the question becomes so normalized that there comes a point in life where you begin to ask yourself the same thing: Why do I want to become a police officer at a time like this?” academy graduate Jasmine Alcauter said to her fellow recruits during the virtual ceremony.

Turn on the TV, click on to a news site and the problems facing law enforcement are obvious.

One part of the solution is to recruit officers who grew up in communities of color and better understand the issues those communities face. But it’s not always easy to recruit people of color, and academies have addressed the challenge with varying degrees of success.

Grand Rapids Community College’s police academy is one of the programs that has drawn diverse students.

The efforts start outside of the academy. Since GRCC is a community college, its student population tends to be more diverse, leading to a more diverse police candidate pool.

Those future officers also serve as the school’s best recruitment tool.

“When they know of individuals that they have contact with that show interest or express interest in pursuing a career in law enforcement or corrections, then they refer them back to us,” Jermaine Reese, GRCC’s criminal justice training director, said.

The class that graduated last month saw a 40% increase in minority recruits.

Those graduates signed on to the academy before the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other incidents that served to drive an even deeper wedge between law enforcement and the community.

Still, Reese is confident in the future recruitment efforts.

“We try to challenge them to think beyond the status quo, to see themselves as a viable part, as a viable solution to the changes that need to take place,” Reese said. “We don’t want to just have an academy full of African Americans and Latinos. We want a good mixture of people who are qualified and who want to make a positive change and difference in the law enforcement profession.”

It’s a message and an attitude GRCC academy graduate Jasmine Alcauter passed on during graduation.

“I’m here to make a difference. I’m here to make a change. I’m here to be the change,” Alcauter said.

Nearly 40 recruits graduated from the GRCC academy program in August.

Along with GRCC, Grand Valley State University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College have similar police academy programs.