Chattanooga Police Department demographics
American Indian or Alaska Native: 2
Native Hawaiian: 1
Source: Chattanooga Police Department
Despite promoting a minority recruitment fair more than 100 times across different media, only one person has shown up. Now the Chattanooga Police Department is asking the community for help.
"We are asking for not only help in our recruiting efforts but also help in understanding, should we have some revisions or improvements in our processes," Chief David Roddy said. " We believe a stronger police department reflects its community."
As of this month, records show only 14% of the department's 487 officers are black and 4% are Latino.
While the department is close to reflecting the city's Hispanic and Latino population, it less than halfway to reflecting the black population. Chattanooga is 33% black and 5% Latino.
And it isn't a Chattanooga-specific problem. Across the nation, the vast majority of law enforcement officers are white.
According to a 2013 Bureau of Justice survey, more than 70% of 12,000-plus local agencies and their nearly 500,000 sworn officers were white. Just 12% were black and 11% Latino.
But over the years, the Chattanooga Police Department has taken "deliberate steps" to increase its minority force, Roddy said.
From person-to-person recommendations with cash incentives to featuring minority officers in recruitment advertising and event promotion, the response has been minimal.
Since October 2016, a pot of money has been waiting for people to claim their $500 reward — for every minority recruit who starts the police academy, the person who referred them receives $500.
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.
It's funded by a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and is called the Each One Reach One initiative. But so far, only 12 people have cashed in on the reward, meaning $4,000 is left for another eight people to claim their $500 for referring a minority recruit.
"We have seen great successes in the number of female cadets that have joined or are getting ready to join the rank and file of the Chattanooga Police Department," Roddy said.
This year's academy includes eight women, the result of a steady climb from 2014 when there were no women in that year's academy.
But, "unfortunately, we have not had the success in our African American community that we would have hoped for," Roddy said. " We ask the community's help not only in bringing new minority officers to us, but perhaps remove barriers or implement better processes that would help us in those endeavors."
Sgt. David Young, president of the Chattanooga Black Police Officer Association, pointed to the news coverage of videos of police shootings and false arrests as creating tension between law enforcement and the public.
That tension dates back to the Jim Crow era and beyond, and has again come to a boiling point in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality. And here locally, allegations of police brutality and misconduct, including rape, sexual battery, haven't helped.
As some city council members have pointed out, it's an issue that has hurt the law enforcement profession's image, even calling it shameful, and will take time to fix.
For Roddy, though, he said he thinks that mindset is worrisome.
"To be quantified with the word 'shame,' I guess it's concerning," he said. "I do not believe that word in any way characterizes the courageous and selfless service that I've seen in my 24 years with this agency and that I know is present across this country."
Ultimately, he said, "it's based on your call to serve. That internal drive to put others before self."
"It's just going to take the police department building a better relationship with the community to earn the trust of the community," Young said. "And then the community earning the trust of the police department. If both of us can work on that trust level, then it'll work itself out."
Young, who has been with the department for 15 years, started out in the Chattanooga Police Department's Explorer's program while in high school.
Over the years, he said, the relationship between the police department and the community has been a "roller coaster" of trust and distrust.
He encourages people to go on ride-alongs and sign up for the department's citizen's police academy.
That way, he hopes the department can "get more people on board [and] we can start to change that mind frame in our community."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.