‘More Work to Do’: Police Force is Still Struggling to Attract Women, Minorities

John Hinton, Winston-Salem Journal, April 10, 2009

Despite its efforts to build a diverse work force, the Winston-Salem Police Department still struggles to attract women and minorities.

A look at this year’s class of police recruits shows that among the 30 recruits, 24 are white men, two are Hispanic men, two are black women, one is a white woman and one is an American Indian man, Chief Scott Cunningham said. Only 20 percent of the recruits are members of underrepresented groups, a fact that concerns him.

“The department is not where we want to be,” Cunningham said. “We want to mirror our community.”

The issue isn’t new–city officials have wrestled with it for 30 years, and the department has made some slow progress in diversifying its ranks. But this is the first class recruited since Cunningham was hired in June 2008. He said last week that the department will “aggressively recruit” more minorities and women to the force.

In late January, Cunningham sent a letter to 400 churches in the city, asking for their help in encouraging people to apply to become police officers.

Police recruiters also have visited several historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina, and the department has advertised in brochures distributed at Winston-Salem State University.

The city also has a program to recruit black police officers at WSSU, in which the city pays the tuition of a student who subsequently becomes a Winston-Salem police officer.

“We are trying to attract diverse candidates,” Cunningham said. “We are not as successful as we need to be.”

Council Member Molly Leight of the Winston-Salem City Council said she was surprised and disappointed at the low numbers of minorities among the recruits.

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Blacks make up 34 percent of Winston-Salem’s population, and women make up 52 percent, according the U.S. Census Bureau. Whites make up 51 percent of the city’s population, and 12 percent is Hispanic.

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The qualifications to become a police officer include being at least 21 years old, having a high-school diploma, and no felony convictions, serious misdemeanors or impaired-driving convictions. Recruits also must pass physical and written tests.

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