Bridging The Gap: Local police leaders discuss diversity challenges

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Every police force should be a reflection of the community it serves, but for many departments, that's just not the case.

23 News looked into why that's happening and the struggles department and community leaders say they often face when trying to attract diversity.

"Recruitment is a problem throughout the united states. Trying to get the people who want to come into the career is tough," said Rockford Police Lieutenant Joel Givens.

Givens works hard to attract people of all genders and races to the department.

"We have the national minority update ad. We put posters in numerous locations in the diverse parts of Rockford in hopes that that will bring more diversity to our police department."

But he says demanding the absolute best from applicants is something the department makes a priority.

"We can't force people to come to this career field. They have to have the heart. They have to want it, but we are willing to facilitate them into helping to make this a long-term career," said Givens.

Right now, the Rockford Police Department has 242 caucasian officers, compared to 29 African-American, 17 Hispanic, and six others. A little more than 11 percent of those are women.

"Freeport is a fairly diverse community, and my wish would be to have my police force that mirrors the community we work in," said Freeport Police Chief Todd Barkalow.

Barkalow recognizes the need for diversity in law enforcement but says generating interest can be hard.

"Applications are down. That's not just in Freeport, I think that's everywhere. Law enforcement has kind of gotten a black eye," said Barkalow.

Of the 68 people on Freeport's police force, five are African-American, and one is hispanic.18 are women.

"We still get good applicants. We get a lot of smart, young, professional police officers, so that is encouraging," said Barkalow.

"You don't jump somebody ahead if they don't have the qualifications, nor do you hold somebody back because of anything racial or their sex or anything else," said Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain.

The City of Belvidere has a 20 percent Hispanic population. That's why it seeks applicants who are not only diverse but bilingual.

"I think we've done an extraordinary job quite honestly of trying to encourage because we would like to have, it would be a real benefit to the department, to have folks who are bilingual because a lot of our calls involve Hispanic citizens and a lot of them don't speak English very well, and for us to get a real picture of what's going on and how we can help them and so forth, that would be very helpful," said Chamberlain.

The 43-officer department has six females, no African-Americans, and only one Hispanic officer, but that's something city leaders say they're working on, however, it takes time.

"There's always room for us to get better and do better and we certainly would like to have more applicants that are minority applicants. We have an open mind. As long as you do well on the test, and get to the top of the list, you're gonna get the consideration that you merit," said Chamberlain.

"It's fluctuating hours. It's working in cold weather, hot weather, but it's the best job you can ever have and then when I say job, we wanna translate that into this is the best career I could ever have," said Givens.

The Belvidere Fire Department has 5-percent Hispanic officers, however, they say they would also like to see more interest from females, african-americans, and Hispanics so that community members can feel more represented.