North Charleston Police seek more black recruits
If you're black and thinking about going into law enforcement, the North Charleston Police Department wants you.
And if you have an idea on how better to recruit reluctant blacks to the force, officials want to know about that, too.
In the coming months, the department's consultants will begin pulling together focus groups made up of community members and current officers to explore how to best present North Charleston police work as a rewarding career.
Of top concern is what can be done to create a force that more closely resembles the city's racial makeup. North Charleston's population is about equal in terms of black and white residents, but the 325-member uniform police force is 75 percent white.
In a recent pitch, the department's Washington-based consulting team was blunt in assessing how to bring change.
"Showing up at job fairs and handing out flyers is not enough to attract sufficient numbers of minority candidates," wrote researchers from the Police Executive Research Forum, describing a highly competitive recruiting arena where blacks are especially being pursued by under-represented departments nationwide.
Additionally, they noted that in North Charleston, "as with many other policing agencies across the country," the historical mistrust of the police remains "a significant barrier to attracting minority candidates."
Police Chief Jon Zumalt said that during his seven years in charge, recruiting black officers hasn't progressed as far as he'd hoped, even as the city has worked to offer what it considers an attractive and competitive starting package. Entry level officer's pay reaches $33,000 a year, with benefits and the use of a take-home police car.
North Charleston Police Deputy Chief Reggie Burris grew up in the city and recruits almost on a 24/7 timetable. He said the hurdles to recruiting officers — black and white — are formed at a young age, becoming difficult to turn around as attitudes set in and other private-sector opportunities arise.
"The thing that hurts in America today is that it's not cool to do certain things," Burris said, adding that seeing someone who wants to work in a job representing " 'The Man' is not so cool."
Burris said the recruiting competition is fierce. During a recruiting fair at South Carolina State University, he encountered departments from as far away as Fairfax County, Va., as well as various federal government law enforcement agencies giving the same recruiting pitches.
The answer to reversing the trend may come from somewhere down the hierarchy or even outside the department. Debra Hoffmaster, senior associate at the Police Executive Research Forum, said community leaders and police in the trenches could bring in multiple ideas, with suggestions ranging from changing a cumbersome application procedure to changing long-standing perceptions of police in the community. The form of the survey still is being worked out.
Zumalt said he'd like to see a North Charleston police recruitment strategy that starts early, while children are still in school. He also sees it as a long-term turnaround project, potentially running the next 10 to 20 years.