Changing the ranks

Police forces are stirring up the status quo by focusing on diversity in recruiting

Floyd Hutchinson was born in England but his parents are from the Caribbean, so diversity has always been an important part of his life. And as a special constable with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS), he has seen plenty of changes in his 15-year policing career.

“For many years the job of policing was done by a white, Anglo-Saxon man, six-foot-one, 190 pounds — that was a policeman,” he says. “Today’s world is different so you have to be able to prove you can deal with different types of diversity.”

As with many organizations, police forces across Canada are realizing the necessity, and value, of having a more diverse workforce that reflects the community at large.

Aboriginals have been a big focus for the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) but the force has broadened its recruitment efforts to better reflect the community, which has expanded because of the booming economy in Alberta, says Moly Penner, diversity recruitment co-ordinator at EPS.

Recruitment campaigns include the usual postcards, posters, bus wraps and online ads but increasingly the images feature a more diverse crowd, such as female officers or officers wearing turbans, she says.

A big part of recruiting is getting out into the community and building relationships with the various ethnic groups through events and career fairs. The EPS works hard to build partnerships with ethnic community leaders, career counsellors, government workers and others working with immigrants and newcomers.

“They can assist in promoting a positive image about EPS and also establish and maintain positive relationships with people, which is a common and big barrier in some ethnic communities,” says Penner.

Many immigrants have had bad experiences dealing with police in their home countries and don’t necessarily recognize Canada’s officers as “good guys” so “we have to work harder to reach out directly to potential candidates,” she says.

That includes connecting with parents and grandparents, too, because they can have a large influence on decision-making when it comes to choosing careers, says Penner. And that means putting recruitment ads online, to reach younger generations, and on the radio, in ethnic newspapers or local businesses to reach older generations.

“It’s really important to have relationships with communities as a whole, not just potential candidates,” she says.

The EPS has a diversity job development program for people from diverse cultures who have taken the written and fitness tests but failed, within a certain margin. Started in 2007, the mentorship program is funded by the EPS and meant to help interested candidates improve their skills and abilities so they can pass the tests. The program should take about six months but can last up to one year and participants are paid $10 per hour to attend, for eight hours per day, with training on fitness, required courses (public speaking, reading or writing), areas of weakness and work experience.

Also focused on recruiting minorities, with supportive programs, is the OPS, which is boosting its efforts to recognize different educational skills or backgrounds among candidates who may be from outside Canada. Instead of having traditional qualifications, immigrants may bring other assets to the service, such as the ability to speak several languages or life experiences, says Hutchinson, who has made a point of educating himself on different customs and cultures.

“When you go to interact with people in a very confrontational or crisis situation, the more understanding you have with their backgrounds, ideals, languages and customs will help you deal with people in a more professional way,” he says. “So it’s really important. Diversity is a huge component of what we do.”

With two daughters, aged 19 and 21, Hutchinson has a particular interest in recruiting female candidates and 22 per cent make up the Ottawa force, he says. They bring different skills to policing that men don’t always possess, such as multi-tasking and empathy, which can be helpful in domestic or sexual assault situations, says Hutchinson.

The Ottawa force has also hired several officers from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community because their culture is part of the city’s mosaic, he says, and their experiences and concerns can help them address issues in the community.

Some groups are a “harder sell,” says Hutchinson, such as Aboriginals, who have not had many opportunities, or Asians, because of cultural differences. But the OPS awards a scholarship each year to a visible minority woman or Aboriginal woman to provide additional support and “encourage them to think about policing,” he says.

However, the attitudes or potential resistance of long-serving members can be a challenge. The OPS offers a diversity-training session that involves members of diverse communities, such as Aboriginals or gays, talking about their history and experiences. It’s important to have members from diverse groups feel comfortable at work, says Hutchinson.

“If you hire and they’re disappointed with what you do, you lose them, so retention is a huge thing,” he says. “You want to make sure you pick the best people at the beginning and help them to develop their skills and abilities.”

Diversity is not only about recruiting people at the entry level but working with them right through the various ranks and areas, says Keith Forde, Toronto’s first visible minority deputy chief, human resources command. At Toronto Police Service (TPS), every employee receives annual, mandatory diversity training. This includes sensitivity-awareness sessions around Aboriginals, sexual orientation, elder abuse, racial profiling or religion.

Since 2006, the TPS has been focused on diverse recruiting to ensure it “reflects and represents the diversity of the community we serve, and that’s embedded in all our plans,” says Forde. “You will find women and visible minorities right through every rank and even in specialized areas that were once predominantly male.”

For the first time in TPS history, a woman is heading up the homicide squad. And women also head up two of the force’s other 17 divisions, says Forde. “These are significant moves in this organization that we’ve never experienced before.”

The force has an Aboriginal peacekeeping unit that strives to build relations with that community while people with disabilities, though not able to be officers, are provided with modified equipment so they can do their jobs better, he says.

While it may be harder for a white male to get a job with the police force, “we’re not apologizing for that because that’s the make-up of the city,” says Forde. “It’s less and less becoming an issue for us and we don’t shy away from responding to or engaging those members because we need those members to understand where this service is going.”

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