(WGHP) — Cpl. Kellie Wilkes is a recruiting supervisor for the Winston-Salem Police Department. She says in the two years she’s been in recruiting, it’s been tough.
“You get two sides of it. ‘I don’t want to go through all that training,’ or ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to do it,'” she outlined. “But then you have the ‘when I was growing up, we were told not to talk to the police. We were told not to like the police.'”
In departments around the country, Black officers are retiring or leaving faster than departments can recruit new ones. It’s happening in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and D.C. It’s also happening in Winston-Salem.
“I chose to do this to be part of the change. You can do the same thing,” Wilkes said.
Of Winston-Salem PD’s 666 sworn personnel since 2017, four identify as two or more races, three are American Indian, eight are Asian-Americans, 35 are Hispanic, 100 are Black, and 516 are white.
We also checked with High Point and Greensboro police. Of High Point’s sworn 231 sworn officers, 88% are white and about 11% are Black.
The national trend is not what’s happening with Greensboro police. The last four academy classes have included more women and minorities. And from last December to now, GPD has gone from 69% white to 67%, and from 21.6% Black to nearly 24%.
“At the end of the day, diversity is diversity,” Wilkes said. “We have the same issues recruiting Hispanics as we do females, as we do Asian males, Asian females. Diversity across the board is huge.”
“I hope to make a change and change public opinion towards police officers,” Francisco Garcia said. “You see some bad people on the news, but the majority are not.”
Garcia is one of five Hispanic cadets in WSPD’s current academy class. There are also 17 white cadets, one Black cadet, and one American Indian. He graduated from UNCG in May with a biology degree and planned to go to dental school before he started working as an EMT.
“I started asking people on scene, different people, cops, nurses, doctors, surgeons whether they enjoyed their jobs just to see if it was anything I could go into. Surprisingly the cops, almost every single one of them I asked said they loved it. they couldn’t think of doing anything else,” Garcia said when we asked about what made him want to be a police officer.
Now neither can he. With mistrust among minority communities being a leading reason departments are struggling to recruit minorities, Garcia says he never had a negative experience with police.
“…but definitely what you see in the media didn’t look good. My parents always told me, ‘be careful when a cop pulls you over, make sure you do everything right.’ Being Hispanic, the majority when we think of police we think of immigration.”
In a time when communities are becoming more diverse and departments are being intentional about looking like the community they serve, the challenges are especially great recruiting officers of color.
“We reach out to people, what can we do because we’re out of ideas,” Wilkes said. “We can only do so much. Career fairs are not working anymore. Not to be smart, but if you think you can do better, if you think you have a different approach, please come. We want you to help us.”
To be clear, recruiting is tough across the board. The Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing, surveyed departments across the country and found as a whole, fewer new officers were hired from 2020 to now and resignations and retirements increased in the same period.