Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office announces minority recruitment push
On October 26, 2015 at 7:30 AM, updated October 26, 2015 at 7:31 AM'Rebranding' More than a year after the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office first reached out to the NAACP to talk about how law enforcement could improve its relationship with the general public, the GCPO has announced a push for agencies at both the county and municipal level to recruit officers from a more diverse pool of applicants. "It's a rebranding of law enforcement," said Loretta Winters, Gloucester County NAACP president. "A lot of times when you're interacting with a minority population, the police are considered the enemy. And who wants to join the enemy? We want to get to the youth and let them know the police are not your enemy." The Gloucester County Law Enforcement Diversity Recruitment Initiative hinges on reaching out to minority communities throughout New Jersey to interest a wider array of young people in a career in law enforcement. After months of talks and surveys from local police departments, the GCPO decided on a three-pronged approach: developing a positive relationship with law enforcement early in children's lives, making more of an effort to recruit applicants from minority communities and mentoring youth who might be interested in pursuing a career in the field. Ads by ZINC"I don't want anybody to think the standards will be lowered," said Prosecutor Sean Dalton. "It's about getting a different range of applicants. The candidates still have to be qualified, but now we have a larger pool." "If your pool of applicants is only one color," added Winters, "that's all you'll get."
The move was a response to rioting in Baltimore, along with unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City pushing tensions between residents and police officers into the national spotlight. 'The gap we're hoping to bridge' Gloucester County's population of nearly 300,000 is made up of about 16 percent ethnic and racial minorities. The percentage of minority law enforcement officials, however, hovers around 8 percent of roughly 600 personnel. "That's the gap we're hoping to bridge," said Dalton in a meeting with South Jersey Times staff, which was also attended by Winters and two county police chiefs. Dalton could not provide town-by-town demographics, but cited the Washington Township, Glassboro, Franklin Township and Paulsboro police departments as a few of the most diverse agencies in the county. There is no deadline and no hiring quota -- rather, police are reaching out to as many people as they can and seeing who applies. "There is no timetable. Rather, we will continue to monitor the program and survey the departments to ensure we are identifying and mentoring candidates that are competitive in the department's selection process," said Dalton. "We have to recruit," said Chief Rodney Sawyer of the Mantua Police Department. "I think that's one area where we lack. It's about getting out beyond a simple newspaper ad, and getting out to church groups, to the schools. That's paramount for us -- we have to get the kids at an early age and build a foundation for the rest of their lives." Even if that foundation doesn't necessarily lead to a career with a South Jersey police department, Sawyer said, a positive interaction with an authority figure could go a long way. "The sooner we get to them and explain to them the importance of laying a foundation for any career, the better," he said. For potential applicants already old enough to join law enforcement, a new website, gloucesterpolicerecruitment.org, went live last week. There, the GCPO hopes to establish a resource for residents all over New Jersey to find job opportunities in Gloucester County agencies. Chief Rafael Muniz of the Washington Township Police Department said that communities have a lot to gain by having police that reflect their population. "We've had domestic incidents where people didn't even speak English, and the officers wouldn't get anywhere," he said. "Then I'd show up -- I speak [Spanish] -- and everyone felt more comfortable. Our communities are becoming more diverse, and this will help diffuse some situations." As a young man looking for a job, Muniz didn't immediately gravitate toward Washington Township. He steered himself at first toward jurisdictions where he was more likely to work alongside other Hispanic police officers. "I took civil service tests in New York, Philadelphia, Texas, Miami," he said. "I went to areas where the complexion of the department looked like who I was. I didn't look in suburban areas. I thought, 'I don't have a shot.'" That, Muniz says, is where recruitment comes in. "Once we start making those changes, the work will do itself." 'We're better than what they see in the media' In Glassboro, a black Class I special law enforcement officer has made a name for himself as a prime example of what happens when young people have positive reinforcement with the law.
Officer Corey Pinkney is halfway to a criminal justice degree from Rowan University, which he attends on a scholarship. Pinkney, 21, whose uncle is a police officer, said having a strong role model was one of the main factors in his choice to join law enforcement. "That's what I saw growing up," Pinkney said. "He was a role model to me and showed me the path of law enforcement. When it came to choosing a career, there was no doubt about it." Though Pinkney's hiring is not directly connected with the GCPO's recruitment push, he feels strongly about having a racially diverse police force in his hometown. "It shows we're representative of the community," he said. "When they look at our department, they see Glassboro. Having minorities is a representation of the community. We need to show them we're here to help -- that we're better than what they see in the media." "If we're all about community policing, and we look at the root of what that's supposed to achieve, your demographics have to be equal," said Alex Fanfarillo, Glassboro police chief. "In the last 10 years we've come a long way. When I first came here there was little to no minority presence. We've been fortunate to find qualified candidates. Officer Pinkney came here with the energy and willingness to become a police officer. He's starting at the bottom and working his way up. He has a lot of promise and we have a lot of hope." "My long-term goal is to make a positive impact," said Pinkney. "I want to show everyone how good a police officer I can be." County and municipal law enforcement officials will begin visiting schools and local universities in the coming months, starting with visits to Rowan University and several county school districts in November and December. Later this winter, the GCPO will host an in-depth seminar on the policies and procedures surrounding police-involved shootings. In the meantime, officials hope that every cop working the beat will serve as an ambassador to the public. Several chiefs emphasized that most Gloucester County police departments offer explorer programs for adolescents interested in the field, and in the cases of towns including Mantua, Glassboro and Washington Township, residency is not a requirement for mentoring. "Down to the lowest ranking patrolman, I tell them, it's your job to begin a recruitment process there," said Muniz. "You're a living, breathing example of those opportunities. They're our boots on the ground." Andy Polhamus may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ajpolhamus. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.