Can Next-Generation Cops Spur Policing Reform?

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NYPD training cadet. Photo by Timothy Krause via Flickr

As calls for major policing reform mount across the country, a new generation of police recruits may lead the way, reports Reuters. 

“We are not waiting two, three, four years for change,” said DeCarlos Hines, a forensic psychology major and president of the Black Student Union at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which is one of the biggest feeders into U.S. law enforcement.

“We need to change now — right now.”

Hines is part of a growing contingent of Black and brown youth whose interest in law enforcement careers is matched by a determination to change the profession, says Debra Dreisbach, a former FBI agent who lectures on criminal justice and ethics at Pennsylvania State University.

“People who were set to go into policing — the diehards, if you will — are still pursuing that path, but there’s a lot of questioning going on right now,” she said.

At John Jay, Hines and the student union are pushing for more minority instructors; mandatory anti-racism training for staff, faculty and students; inclusion of minority scholarship in every syllabus and course across the college; and a mandatory course on alternatives to policing, such as social work.

This next generation wants better training; a more transparent, flexible and accountable police presence; and closer ties to the communities they serve.

Elias Oleaga, 19, another John Jay student whose interest in a policing career started when he met veteran cops with a strong commitment to serving his Dominican community in the Bronx, says the national debate about policing has not shaken his desire to become an officer.

“Honestly, I’d be lying if I said it did. Passion doesn’t go extinct.”

But because of George Floyd’s death, he said he now plans to focus his police career on community relations rather than his original choice, investigations.

“I’ve seen what happens in the streets of the South Bronx. I’d like to be the support system that was given to me,” he said.

Karol Mason, president of John Jay College, said she is listening.

“We need leadership from young voices to tell us how we can do this better,” said Mason.

John Jay’s 15,000 student body is about 80 percent people of color, but about two-thirds of the faculty is white.

“I will consider it a personal failure if I don’t figure out how to change and give our students people who look like them,” Mason continued.

“You often hear ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.'”

Drops in the number of recruits and increases in officers heading for retirement are so dramatic that the Police Education Research Foundation (PERF) dubbed it a “workforce crisis.”

Hiring and keeping Black and other minority officers is one of many challenges facing police recruiters, PERF says.

Law enforcement agencies are also increasingly struggling to find recruits who are conversant with technology to fight cyber crimes, such as human trafficking online or internet stalking, and able to be more active in addressing an array of social ills like the opioid epidemic.

Additional Reading:

“How to be a 21st Century Cop,” The Crime Report, March 23, 2017

“Police Training Needs to Move into 21st Century,”  The Crime Report, June 24, 2020

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