Police Force Strives to Become More Diverse

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Mila Hayes-Morales
Middleton Chief of Police Chuck Foulke says his department should reflect the increasingly diverse community it protects.

Racial disparities in police departments have been a hot topic ever since the events in Ferguson, MO in August 2014 which sprouted violence and friction between policemen and diverse communities.

The reality is that police stations around the country often do not reflect the makeup of the communities they serve, and Middleton, historically, has not been an exception. Even though many efforts has been taking place in Dane County, area police forces have typically lacked minority officers.

In the worst cases across the country, this issue causes rivalry and mistrust between police officers with residents, eroding the bridge of communication between community and authorities. Also, the misrepresentation of the community can lead to misunderstandings which make police work more tedious and complex, say officers.

Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke said he “is committed to increase[ing] the diversity of the department. And even though he has been chief less than two years, Foulke already has a plan in action.

At this time, the Middleton Police Department “has 37 sworn police officers, 29 are white males, six are white females and two are Hispanic males. Thirty two of our officers have Bachelor’s Degrees, the rest meet the state minimum of 60 college credits,” Foulke stated.

While the numbers do not yet exactly match the city’s ethnic makeup, they are increasingly diverse, and Foulke has been a vocal campaigner for more diversity ever since he took over the department. Following the Census of 2010, Middleton racial makeup of the city was 87.1 percent White, 3.5 percent African American, 0.3 percent Native American, 4.2 percent Asian, 2.3 percent from other races, and 2.5 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.6 percent of the population.

The Hispanic population has increased steadily since 2010 and police efforts around the state have been ramped up to get more Hispanic officers into the field.

Foulke said he believes the people who spend time in Middleton are actually more diverse than the residential numbers indicate.

“I find those figures misleading ... because higher percentages of minorities drive through Middleton, work in Middleton, attend school in Middleton, than is reflected in the permanent population figures,” Foulke explained.

Many initiatives to attract Hispanic officers has been place throughout the state, like “Amigos en Azul” in Dane County, which is a grassroots organization that works to dissolve cultural barriers and establish lines of communication between the Hispanic community and the Dane County law enforcement.

The most successful efforts are sometimes the non-traditional ones.

“I am proud of the officers we hire and the wide diversity of education and life experiences,” Foulke said. “I would love to have more women and minorities in our department. We are currently beginning a hiring process to replace one officer and to develop an eligibility list for future vacancies. I have recommended changes in our hiring procedures to eliminate or lessen barriers for minority candidates, but remain resolute in maintaining our high quality standards of education and ethics.”

Although Foulke has not been able to totally revamp the rules hiring process, he does use non traditional methods to recruit Hispanic officers - like advertising in minority periodicals and working with groups such as the NAACP, Urban League and United Way.

He also said he gives higher priority to applicants who speak Spanish.

But the police force can’t hire people who aren’t applying.

Middleton Police officer Cesar Salinas said that  “too many times as a child, I was told and informed by my peers that becoming a police officer would mean being a ‘sellout’ to my race and neighborhood.  Police officers were painted as the enemy in my upbringing, this type of thought process or mentality needs to stop.” 

While the Middleton Police Department has been lauded for its progress, and for being willing to engage with the community in thorny questions about racial equity, Foulke said the work is far from done.

“I am not satisfied with our results,” the chief stated.

The department has two Hispanic officers – Salinas and Jose Gama – as well as several who also speak Spanish.

Clearly, this short amount of time has not been enough to modify the strict recruitment process for police officers in the area or see the full results of Foulke’s efforts. But it is a critical issue for the community because Middleton has a growing Hispanic population.

As in any other city in the country, Middleton faces the formidable predicament of being racially fair, filling cultural gaps and staying on task with police force rules. The solution involves changing the training process, modifying recruitment culture, learning new languages and new attitudes, police say. Some of those changes can take years to have a quantifiable impact.

And it is not just race. Financial diversity also poses important questions for the police force.

“I think the community, specifically city government, is aware of their responsibility to deal with people of poverty in a fair and equitable manner,” Foulke said. “The police department has changed policies in the past year that lessen our impact on people of poverty.”

“The city is working on increasing public transportation and affordable housing,” he continued. “This is beneficial to all people of poverty, a great number of which are minorities.

If all these efforts work, supporters say they will generate trust between police and all members of the Middleton community, regardless race, gender or income. And, as any officer will be quick to point out, citizens who trust their police force are far more likely to collaborate with them to prevent or solve crimes.

“I am a believer that a police department should be reflective of the people they police,” Foulke said.

“Even though at this point our police department doesn’t represent the diversity in our community does not mean that the attempts to fix this controversy are failing,” he added. “We have an ethical obligation to recognize and address the issues of racial disparities in our community.”

In the case of Hispanic police officers, that would eliminate language barriers.

“Prior to becoming the School Resource Officer at Kromrey Middle School, I can remember having Hispanic residents specifically requested me when calling our PD for assistance,” Salinas said. “I think the more contact Jesus [Gama] and I have with the community, the more our Hispanic population will start to realize the Middleton Police Department can serve their needs too. ”

There is also fear and mistrust in the Hispanic community of police because of immigration status. Definitely, the immigration controversy comes into play: Foulke said many Hispanics fear that any contact with the police will result in arrest or deportation if they are undocumented, which is not the case. Having Hispanic officers may alleviate some of these fears.

Salinas said having Spanish-speaking officers also helps their counterparts in the community avoid feeling like their language barrier makes them a burden.

“We are role models to the Hispanic children in our community,” Salinas said. “We are living proof that they can break the cycle of poverty.  Proof that they can achieve the American dream through hard work and determination regardless of where you come from.”

“I think the barriers within the hiring process can be different for each individual person, regardless of race, sex, or social status,” Foulke said.

“I know for me, the biggest obstacle was the state test when I was applying to other agencies.  Some applicants may not have strong interviewing skills. I think those who meet the minimum requirement for the education portion can look less appealing compared to those with a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s,” added Salinas.

Salinas encouraged Hispanic citizens to seriously consider a career in law enforcement.

“It’s a very self-rewarding job,” he stated. “It’s truly a job that allows you to make a difference in the community.  It’s a job that has allowed me to provide a better life for my family and kids than I had growing up.”

 

 

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