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New Sheriff Attacks Lack of Diversity with Innovative Community Outreach

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By Bruce Bean

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in its efforts to hire more minorities has issued a report by the Executive Office of the Sheriff Commission on Recruiting, Retention and Diversity that says that the Sheriff’s Department should start recruiting in minority neighborhoods and continue to strive to reflect a changing community.

New Sheriff Bob Doyle issued the report as a part of his efforts to create a more diverse work force.

In an unprecedented move, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is also partnering with the Black Voice News in a five-year grassroots recruitment and community education project that will work toward diversifying the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Disparities pointed out by the commission included a lack of sworn African-American officers and a glaring lack of minority representation at the management level.

The commission commended the department on its efforts to recruit and hire minorities, but said that more could and should be done including recruitment in minority areas and a stronger effort to get minority employees to take promotion tests.

The commission, which is made up of a diverse segment of community leaders throughout Riverside County, was asked questions about recruitment, diversity and retention of personnel. The group, which was chaired by Percy Byrd, an Indian Wells City Council Member, was asked to evaluate each question and give a recommendation on each question.

“The commission was my idea,” said Doyle. “It stemmed out of this discussion on diversity that we are having and it was great because as I was coming in [former Sheriff] Larry Smith gave me a lot of latitude as the under-sheriff to do some of the things that I wanted to do.”

“One of the things that I wanted to do is what we are talking about. I felt very strongly that our department needed to better reflects the communities that we serve.

And with population growth that we’re having—we know that we have an enormous Hispanic population infusion here—so I wanted some community leaders to come together outside of the department.

I told them ‘Here’s our house, come and look at it and give us some suggestions. Tell us what we are doing right and tell us what we are doing wrong.”

Doyle said that community leaders were chosen for their closeness to community issues and because he wanted and impartial look at his department.

The Commission looked at everything from the department test through the retention of officers who are already working for the department.

Their stated goal is to support ‘the highest standards for the RCSD.’ They also want to help the department in its goal to be representative of the communities that it serves and have a commitment to exploring innovative ideas to assist the Department in solving the issues of recruiting, retention and diversity.

One of the main questions that we’ve asked of the commission is how the department could recruit a more diverse force into its ranks.

“During the previous decade the growth of the Inland Empire communities has increased at a record pace. More specifically, there has been a dramatic spike in the Hispanic population, and this trend is projected to continue in the coming decade.

To overcome this hurdle, the department should staff the recruiting unit with men and women with diverse backgrounds for the specific purpose of recruiting minority applicants.

These recruiters should strive to focus on specific community organizations, which are predominantly minority based such as Black churches, ethnic cultural events and Latino organizations.

Investigator Kenneth Vann has spearheaded the departments effort’s to reach more minorities and he says that his goals are to help recruit a more diverse force because people want to be policed by those who look like them.

“I’ve been organizing community forums so that the citizens can come in and talk to us one on one so that we can give them the direction that they need and the assistance in getting hired,” he said. “These forums are to help eliminate some of the misperceptions that minorities have about being a police officer.”

“Basically, I’m fighting some apprehension and mistrust even. The forums will be so valuable in helping us dispel some of the myths and perceptions that have prevailed throughout the years in the Black and other communities.

I started talking to upper brass about doing this sometime ago and I didn’t know that the Sheriff was talking about the same thing. It’s worked out really well.”

Vann said that he wants to see more minorities and women hired and to do that he has to dispel notions of what police work is all about.

“Applicants have to have good writing skills because that is a big part of the job,” he said. “That’s where most African Americans fail because they can’t pass the written exam.”

The challenge facing the department is a lack of applicants getting past the initial written exam to background investigations. Of the original 12% of African Americans who take the exam, only 58% of those pass the written exam.

The commission recommended that the Department review the “writing exercise” portion of the written examination to evaluate its fairness to minority applicants.

“One of the things that we have implemented since the commission has been in place is that if someone fails the written test we won’t automatically just drop them off,” said Doyle. “We’ll work with them to bring their written skills up.”

One of the ways that Vann is dealing with this issue is to recommend Basic English courses at local community colleges for applicants who fail their initial written exam.

The biggest dropout of potential applicants happens during background investigations. All law enforcement agencies do extensive background investigations on potential employees.

The investigation includes interviews with friends, family, and a lie detector test. Doyle says that the many potential deputies fall out of the process here because of things in their history that will not allow them to be deputies.

“The fall out because of drug use, or maybe they have four moving violations in six months so they drop out,” he said.

The commission also said that officer retention and promotion were problems and that competition from the private sector was one of the big reasons that the Department loses officers. The commission recommended that the department use mentors and education incentives to help officers advance in their profession.

Another issue that the commission looked at is how the department staffs its recruiting office. Officers borrowed from different departments staff the current office, but the commission recommended that four full-time permanent positions be staffed for recruiting purposes. Doyle said that this is an age-old issue that has been around since he came into the department.

“The way we are structured is that there is no separate personnel [for recruitment], we are separate, but the people are not designated for that area, they come courts, patrol and jails to do the job,” he said.

“So what happens is that they are only there for short periods of time and then someone else comes in so they are not a dedicated unit.

“I would agree that we need to change that, but in order to do that I have got to convince the board of supervisors so that they can allocate money so that can hire separate people to make that a dedicated unit.”

In an effort to highlight the issue of minority hiring and development in the Sheriff’s Department The Black Voice News will be running a series of articles that talk about the process of becoming an officer.

The reports will highlight the exam, different jobs within the department and such things as the academy.

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