Chattanooga police are looking for more minority police officers to join their ranks.
Of the department's 500 officers, about only 16 percent are black, and 4 percent are Hispanic. But the highest disparity is among the black community, because it doesn't reflect the city's demographic. Chattanooga is 33 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.
"History has proven that if a department reflects the population that it serves, it's better able to identify with and serve them better," said Sgt. Joe Shaw, who is in charge of recruitment.
Application deadline: Oct. 20
Pre-employment test deadline: Nov. 2
The department has tried a number of methods to bridge that gap over the years, including person-to-person recommendations and featuring minority officers in recruitment advertising, but the response has been minimal, Shaw said.
Only about 10 percent of the department's applicants are black, Shaw said. And out of 100 applicants, only about 15 to 20 will actually make it to the academy.
He said most of those who drop out of the vetting process leave on their own, Shaw said.
"We do get people who get discouraged and get concerned for personal safety and back out," he said. "We get folks who get other job opportunities and drop out, or folks who have personal issues. Sometimes it's a sickness in the family or whatever."
Another reason is misperceptions and stigmas attached to minorities becoming officers, Shaw said.
For new minority recruits, they can experience pushback among their family and friends, Detective Florida Wynn said.
Wynn, who is black, said she experienced that pushback when she was a cadet. But it didn't really affect her, she said.
"For some people that it does bother them, they're more likely to back out," Shaw said. "They'll say, 'I don't want to lose friendships.'"
So department officials have had to think out of the box.
This is the first year the department has partnered with the Chattanooga Urban League in hopes that it would be a venue where minorities would feel more comfortable coming to fill out an application.
One way to do away with the stigma toward officers is to go on ridealongs, Officer Stevin Burton said.
"It's a great way to job shadow and actually get out in the field to see what we do," he said.
Throughout the morning, about 17 potential applicants stopped into the Urban League, officials said.
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