WEDNESDAY, May 15 — A renewed push toward workforce diversification is paying dividends after a dozen members of minorities and women joined the ranks of the Lansing Police Department, with more to come.
Twelve fresh-faced, Mid-Michigan Police Academy recruits were sworn into the city’s Police Department this month, marking 22 new hires at the department so far this year. And recent statistics paint a portrait of diversity. Of those hired in 2019, nearly three-quarters of them either identify as minorities, women or both.
“It has been goal to have a qualified and diverse class,” said Mayor Andy Schor. “We know we want diversity in our public safety roles — especially diversity in the Police Department. We’re excited to be able to do that, while at the same time having some tremendously skilled officers that can add to our focus on community policing.”
Officer Sagar Kandel, one of the 12 new recruits, is the first Nepalese police officer to be sworn into service in Michigan, said Chief Michael Yankowski. Officer Jose Viera is the son of a migrant family. Officer Yansel Lopez came to Lansing from Cuba. Others hail from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, among other places.
“This is a very diverse city and that’s part of the strength of our personality as a city,” Yankowski explained. “Having officers that reflect a wide range of different cultures and speaking different languages and bringing in these different backgrounds really only makes us stronger, both as a police department and as a community.”
Schor’s administration recently faced scrutiny after the last round of hires at the Fire Department failed to include a single African American or woman. Officials have since amplified a renewed voice to bolster workplace diversity in Lansing, but the increasingly limited size of the applicant pool continues to pose its challenges.
The Police Department is no different.
“Hiring officers, not only in Lansing but across the state, is really hitting a sort of crisis mode,” Yankowski said. “The number of applicants is just drastically reduced. I was competing with 600 to 800 people when I was hired back in 1994. Today? We get less than 50 applicants any time we go through the whole process. It’s a challenge.”
Yankowski said 86 percent of Michigan’s police academy graduates are white men. And that disparity makes it all the more difficult to attract a diverse workforce to adequately represent an urban city like Lansing. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show the capital city carries a minority population of about 40 percent. About half are women.
Still, the Lansing Police Department — unlike other employee groups in the city — has managed to keep the playing field as level as possible. White men have actually been the minority in recent years. In 2017 through this year, Yankowski has hired 71 officers. Records show 33 of them identify as minorities, including 14 women.
“Not only are we hiring a very diverse group, but we’re also accomplishing the mission of getting the best of the best service for our citizens,” Yankowski added. “I sit in on every single interview. They don’t get hired without the chief, and I’m making sure these officers are meeting that high moral character and our core values.”
Yankowski touted that some new recruits were among the top of the class at the Mid-Michigan Police Academy.
Both Schor and Yankowski credit the department’s “explorer” program that recruits local high school students to eventually train at an accredited police academy. Some candidates are also sponsored as cadets, where the city pays them to complete the required training and later hires them when they’re finished.
Part of the challenge is overcoming distrust among minorities of police officers.
“We’re trying to change the mindset. Being a police officer is one of the most noble professions out there,” Yankowski said. “We need to encourage our youth, get rid of those stigmas and make a positive difference in the community. We need to encourage people and provide that trusting environment for them when they get here.”
The mayor’s latest budget proposal calls for one more police officer this year, which would push the department total up to 203 officers. Yankowski said at least five more will be hired later this year as they continue to fill retirement gaps.