The Chattanooga Police Department has been trying to boost its number of minority officers for the last few years, and during this year's Jubilee Day, Chief David Roddy reminded the public of a recruitment incentive.
"If you have an individual you recruit to the Chattanooga Police Department, and they start the academy — not graduate — if they started the academy because you recruited them, we'll give you $500," Roddy said from the pulpit at the Greater Emmanuel Apostolic Church on Tuesday.
He was one of the speakers during the NAACP's annual Jubilee Day celebration, a day that commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves across the nation.
NAACP President Elenora Woods praised the police department's efforts to diversify and told the audience the police department and the sheriff's office share the same problem: a lack of minority applicants.
"[Roddy's] doing a good job," Woods said, but "we need to get more applicants so that we can improve the pool of the number of African Americans within the police department."
That's where the $500 incentive comes in.
But it's not a new strategy. It was actually started under former Chief Fred Fletcher in October 2016, with the Each One Reach One initiative.
The initiative, funded by a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, has and will continue offering the $500 incentive until the money runs out, police department spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said.
Both the referrer and the recruit are vetted by the city before the referrer collects the $500. That's to ensure there are no conflicts of interest and that the rules of the program are followed.
So far, only 10 people have cashed in on the award. That means $5,000 is left and another 10 people can refer minority recruits and claim their $500.
The incentive is just one of many methods the department has been using to try to increase minority representation within the department.
"We stepped back and studied the way that we recruited and hired individuals in the Chattanooga Police Department," Roddy told the Times Free Press late last month. " Through that process we found certain things that were disparate on minority applicants."
For example, the department used to require a set number of pull-ups in its physical agility test. That was a barrier for some applicants, so they revamped the test to better reflect what the job actually required.
"I joke now when I give presentations and talk about it," he said. "I've been a cop for 23 years. At no point whenever I was chasing a bad guy did I suddenly run up and there was a bar in front of me and I was like, 'Oh, crap. I have to pull my chin over that six times.' And take off running again. But I did have to climb a fence. I've had to drag people out of the way."
The department also has been reaching out to people who didn't finish their applications but were not disqualified.
"A direct connection with a potential applicant goes a long way in that applicant staying engaged in the process," Roddy said.
So the department set up a "telethon" system. Chiefs and captains sit down with a call list and reach out specifically to minority applicants and ask if there's anything they can do to reactivate their applications.
They also started looking at certain things, such as having delinquent financial accounts, as "points of review" rather than disqualifiers.
"You could have one delinquent account, but it could be due to being 25 years old and not on your parents' car insurance anymore and you had a bad car crash. That's a $60,000 medical bill you're trying to pay off as a 25-year-old making $12 an hour. Of course you're going to go delinquent."
All of that has led to a majority minority in the most recent police academy graduating class, with 1o white male officers compared to 12 minority officers, including four black males, three Hispanic males, two black females and three white females.
On the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office side of things, Sheriff Jim Hammond said he has lowered the hiring age to 18 rather than 21.
"One of my dreams several years ago was to lower the age at which I could hire young men, especially in the minority community, so that they didn't get pulled in directions they didn't need to be," he said. "I lowered it to 18 so that we could get them right out of high school."
At 18, deputies can't carry a weapon, but they can work in the corrections division, he said, where they can "prepare themselves to go out on the road."
"But there is an issue," he said. "Even with [lowering the age], we have a tough time recruiting folks. We need to do a better job of it for females, Hispanics, for young African Americans."
Hammond said that, for the last few weeks, he and other sheriff's office leaders have been working on better recruitment methods. They will be more proactive in reaching out to recent high school graduates and those who are already working in the corrections division, he said.
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