The towns and cities on New Hampshire’s mostly white seacoast have mostly white police departments. The racial diversity among the police departments in the area differ by degrees, but several police chiefs agree that increasing the diversity of the police force is a goal worth pursuing.
Dover’s Police Chief Anthony Colarusso spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about efforts to create a more diverse police force.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
So Chief Colarusso, from the perspective of someone in law enforcement, tell us what you see as the major benefits of a more diverse police force.
Ideally you want your police force to mirror your community. Dover specifically, we have mostly Caucasian people living here, but we do have about a two percent Black population and about a three percent Asian population. So to have a department mirroring the diversity of the community is ideal. And that would include women, too, because we try to recruit women in to law enforcement. It’s still a male dominated profession.
Let me dig into that a little deeper and ask about the benefits of that mirror. Why is that a good thing to have the police force mirror the community in that way?
When you have people who work for you who mirror the community, sometimes the people can reach out and connect with the other minority populations and make everybody feel welcome. You want the police department to be friendly to the community and accepted by all aspects of the community, not just the White population or another different minority or majority group. You want them to be able to reach out to all groups.
What are the obstacles to becoming more diverse?
Our applicant pool is manly Caucasian. For example in 2016, we had about 344 people take this test. Over 300 of them were White applicants, and only 10 were Black. By that sheer number you try to bring people on, but because of the numbers, the odds are slim that you could actually hire one of these low number of, say, Black applicants. So the number of people who apply is very low.
And the process is extensive. You have a written test. If you score in an acceptable range, you could get invited to an interview. So let’s say all 10 of the Black applicants scored high enough. Then there are 10 applicants to go between 28 police departments. Then they have to go through the oral portion, psychological portion, medical portion, and background portion before they could be hired.
Wow. That’s quite a process. And you were quoted in the Portsmouth Herald as saying, “I don’t know why anybody would want to be a police officer nowadays.” Why is that?
Yeah, I still believe that. I think back to when I was 22 years old and getting hired as a police officer. There were a lot of positives about becoming a police officer in the national narrative. There weren’t a lot of people saying, “Why would you ever want to be a cop?” To me it was more like, “You’re going to be a police officer? We’re very proud of you.” But with the national narrative about police-involved shootings, corruption issues and political issues, it seems like there’s a lot of negativity surrounding police. So that’s one factor.
The other factor is we’re trying to hire well-educated people, college-educated people to become police officers. Then they look at the pay, which is relatively low. The retirement benefits have been watered down here in New Hampshire by the state legislature. Also, there’s shift work. You’re working nights, weekends and holidays. And then there’s always the potential for danger. There are not many jobs around where you’re strapping on your ballistic vest, your gun belt, your handcuffs, your Taser, your baton, and your pepper spray. Not many jobs in the world are like that. So I think the younger generation now look at it more deeply and will ask themselves, “Why do I want to do that?”
What are you in Dover planning on doing to attract more minorities to this line of work?
Well, we’ve been doing quite a bit. We’ve been reaching out to minority groups like the NAACP in Massachusetts. There’s a minority police officers association. We’re reaching out and trying to recruit down there, reaching out to the colleges. And we’re also trying to work with the diversity coordinator for the state to look at candidates out of some colleges in the southern part of the country, and looking for minorities that may want to relocate and become police officers in this part of the country. So that’s probably the newest initiative that I’m working on.
And are you hearing from people in the community about what they think about the racial makeup of their local police department? Are they saying, for example, “We would like you to be more diverse?”
I’m really not getting that. As an agency and as a city, we are trying to get ahead of any potential issues by connecting with the community to talk about race and implicit bias. So at the same time it makes sense to try to recruit women and minorities into law enforcement.