U of M research provides new insights
Recently, the Brooklyn Park Police Department was presented the results of a University of Minnesota psychology research project in connection with the Resilient Communities Project partnership that explored methods the department could use to increase the diversity of its officers.
The project, completed by students Jingyuan Tian, Yieli Wang and Yagizhan Yazar and overseen by professor Deniz S. Ones, combined survey data for the existing police force with existing scholarly literature on hiring practices to bring forth recommendations for the department, which has been working to recruit and retain a more diverse group of officers.
In past research projects for the city, university researchers concluded that part what has kept the department from becoming more diverse is a lack of non-white candidates interested in officer positions across the state, making competition for recruitment quite high.
The department has since ramped up its recruiting efforts, focusing on a cadet program that helps train future officers and pays for their education while in the program.
Researchers suggested that the department work to identify potential candidates who would make good police officers at a younger age, while still in high school, and attempt to recruit them into a law enforcement career.
Recruits could be identified as early as their sophomore year in high school, according to Ones. The department could work together with high schools in the city, such as Park Center or Champlin Park, to survey students and find which candidates would feel most fulfilled as a police officer or best fit the position.
Certain aptitude and personality testing, which could potentially be administered by school counselors at a low cost, could measure the interest of high school students in a police career, or to look for students who have personalities that fit the needs and profile of a police officer. These tests would also be able to provide students with career guidance, which could potentially increase their interest in a law enforcement career. Interest can be measured across all genders and ethnic backgrounds, Tian said.
Recruitment efforts could then be targeted towards students who fit most closely with the police officer profile, thus increasing the size of the non-white applicant pool. These students could then be brought on a ride-along, or invited to other outreach efforts to teach students about a career in law enforcement, Tian said.
Schools such as Park Center or Champlin Park are diverse and have high numbers of non-white students who could potentially be recruited by the department.
Recruitment could also be tailored to fit certain jobs within the department. For instance, a community engagement officer may need to be more social, so the tests could determine if a candidate is a good fit for such a position.
“I love that idea … because the quick fix in diversifying this police department, we’ve accepted it’s not there, we’ve got to be in for the long haul,” said Deputy Chief Mark Bruley. “That’s why we’re OK with cadets going to school for two years, you know, 30 months in some cases just to become a police officer here, because we know for the next 30 years it’s the investment,” he said.
Researchers first surveyed the existing Brooklyn Park Police Department to determine, among other things, what workplace needs exist for any given person of a specific racial or ethnic background in the department.
By analyzing and understanding the workplace needs of any given group of people, the department could then specialize its recruitment tactics to reach more diverse candidates.
The pool for officers of color in the department’s survey data was small compared to the white officer pool, with approximately 84 percent of respondents identifying as white.
Broadly, the researchers concluded that for officers of color, social status or prominence in the community and compensation were more important factors in workplace needs than they were for white officers.
The researchers recommended that the department consider emphasizing high compensation rates in its promotional materials to attract more officers of color. They also suggested the department include testimonials from officers of color who have found that they enjoy their work with the department and feel fulfilled.
Compensation is typically tied with social status in the context of the workplace needs of any social group, Ones said.
“How [do] you gain social status? By earning money, by bettering your family’s lifestyle, by bettering yourself and so on … all of those as bundle means something, especially to minority groups,” Ones said.
Ability utilization is also tied to compensation and social status, according to the research. That is, it is important to show that increased compensation and social status are a result of a person fully utilizing their skills as a police officer and thereby earning more money.
According to Ones, some sort of visible award nominated by the community could potentially help to increase the social status of officers.
Generally, it can be difficult to balance the need for improved social status or visible recognition for a police officer with a police culture where an officer may not want special recognition, particularly from outside of their colleagues in their own department, said Bruley.
Survey data also showed that non-white officers have their workplace needs better met than white officers on the Brooklyn Park Police Department.
Ones suggested that the department explore Facebook as a way to display promotional materials to any specific group in a given zip code.