By Kevin Johnson, Captain, Sacramento, California, Police Department
The City of Sacramento
Sacramento, long heralded for its diverse and multicultural community, was named in 2002 by a Harvard University research project as the most diverse and integrated American city. Diversity is the hallmark of Sacramento:
For years, the Sacramento Police Department has been employing the same recruiting strategies as most law enforcement agencies, namely recruiting booths and advertisements. As illustrated below, these traditional attempts to be reflective of the community and parallel the diversity found in Sacramento's populations were not fully successful:
In January 2004 newly appointed Police Chief Albert Nájera challenged the police department's Personnel and Training Division to discard the old way of doing business and to reinvent a recruiting process. The result was a community-oriented policing approach to recruiting.
Police managers frequently stand before community groups and ask for assistance in recruiting. But rarely do police managers fully inform the community of what it takes to be a successful candidate relative to the qualifications, the testing, the background checks, and the successful completion of the police academy.
In Sacramento, as in many other cities, the desire was real from both the police and the community leaders to ensure that the racial and ethnic makeup of the police force reflected the makeup of the city's population, but the current recruiting forum was not suitable for delivering the necessary information to the community leaders. As a result, community-sponsored candidates were often rejected because of a lack of qualifications, poor performance during the testing and selection process or issues with the background investigation. This sometimes resulted in disgruntled community leaders who were then less willing to cooperate with police recruiters.
The police department developed the Community Recruiter Program with the idea of correcting the mistake of not informing and properly training community leaders. The concept was fairly simple: identify interested community leaders and train them to be police recruiters.
Training Community Recruiters
A challenge facing any new program seeking the involvement of community leaders is finding ways to accommodate the overworked and overextended community leader. Recognizing that time is a factor for community leaders, the information was condensed into a meaningful and hard-hitting a three-hour orientation that focused just on the recruiting needs. The orientation covered each aspect of the recruiting, testing, and background check process as well as an introduction to the police academy. In order to ensure the necessary information was imparted, while confining the presentation to three hours, the following aids were developed:
The program also involved field trips to the police academy and the emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC) designed to give the community recruiter a deeper understanding of the training that new police recruits undergo. This orientation effort communicated what police work was about and the type of person needed to do the work. The understanding gained through this process made it possible for the community recruiter to ask some hard questions of potential candidates and to provide a realistic appraisal of the candidate's suitability for police work in their community.
- A checklist of the qualifications for police officer, including age and education requirements, citizenship, state and federal laws, previous drug use policy, and other department standards, as well as factors that would exclude a candidate, such as felony convictions and domestic violence convictions
- A recruiter handbook containing samples of each test (written, oral, physical agility), job requirements, information on the background check process, and job applications
- A video showing each of the testing processes, life at the police academy, and an introduction to the Sacramento Police Department
This process moved away from simply asking community leaders to provide names of possible candidates and moved toward a community screening-in process of acceptable candidates. Instead of having large numbers wash out in the process, this process helps with the identification of quality candidates for police work.
Sponsoring a Recruit
In addition to finding qualified candidates, the citizen community recruiters were asked to sponsor their recruit. The concept of sponsoring envisioned several duties that would enhance the relationship between the community recruiter and the recruit. These duties included the following:
- Meeting with the recruit during the academy to offer support, encouragement, and counseling
- Meeting with the recruit's family to offer support, encouragement, and counseling
- Participating in the academy graduation and badge pinning ceremony
By sponsoring the recruit and being a part of the whole process, the community recruiter is demonstrating support of the recruit's decision to enter law enforcement. Many of the recruits are second- or third-generation U.S. residents, but many grew up listening to their parents' comments about the unpleasant reputation of the police and perhaps even some personal negative experiences with the police in their country of origin. To many in a minority community, becoming a police officer is often not highly regarded and is looked upon with suspicion. The community recruiter can help bridge the gap between the community and sponsored recruit.
That's Our Recruit
To further reinforce the positive aspects of community recruiting, as quickly as possible the new recruits are assigned to patrol their home communities. In Sacramento the probationary period is 18 months. Upon completion of the field training program, which averages six or seven months, the recruit is assigned to the patrol division for the remainder of his or her probationary period. After the probationary period, seniority then dictates assignments.
A key component of the Community Recruiter Program is the department's ability to assign a recruit to any location in the city after completion of his or her field training program and during the remainder of their probationary period. Therefore, the recruit is assigned to a patrol district in the community that sponsored them. The result is that the community recruiter and other community members can see their officer patrolling their community.
This is a major departure from most probationary assignments. Traditionally the new recruits are assigned to areas of other needs, be it patrol divisions with vacancies or to specialized assignment such as vice enforcement. In Sacramento, police officials felt that the need to be representative of the community and to show quick results of this representation in the communities was more important and that other needs would be addressed in a way that would allow the assignment of the sponsored recruit to their communities. It was felt that the long-term benefits would outweigh the short-term gain in the traditional method.
Not Just a Recruiter
In addition to recruiting, the community recruiters also serve on entry-level and promotional oral panels. Using the community recruiters on oral panels, in particular those representing Asian and Pacific Islanders' communities, has resulted in a tremendous educational opportunity for the department in the area of understanding cultural differences relative to interviewing and testing. The recruiter also benefits from developing an in-depth understanding concerning the police selection process. With this knowledge the recruiter can use factual information and insights in their community leadership position to dispel rumors and misunderstanding of the employee selection and promotion procedures.
The community recruiters also participate in ride-alongs with officers. The ride-alongs have not only allowed community recruiters to meet members of the department but also afforded the officers an opportunity to learn more about the communities in which they patrol from a community leader's prospective.
The Recruiting Future
At the start of the Community Recruiter Program, Chief Nájera met with representatives of the Asian and Pacific Islanders' community and the first community recruiter class was organized. At the beginning of 2005, 58 leaders representing the Asian and Pacific Islanders' community attended the three-hour orientation and became the Sacramento Police Department's first community recruiters.
Encouraged by this initial response and success, the Sacramento Police Department is reaching out to other community representatives and organizations. In addition, a study is currently being conducted on the impact of this program on diversity recruitment. For now, the program stands as a fresh approach to the old problem of attracting qualified minorities into policing. ■