After hearing from four Newtown residents who claimed they’ve witnessed or experienced unfair police treatment, the Police Advisory Panel questioned Police Chief Peter Abbott and the head of the police union Jan. 11 about the department’s minority-hiring practices.
Panel members wondered if hiring more minority officers might reduce that perception.
“There has been a new hurdle (to minority hiring) in the past six months,” said Sgt. Mick McHale, president of the Police Benevolent Association. “We have many people who can’t (meet education requirements).”
The police department now requires officer candidates to have earned at least 60 hours of college credit. McHale said that has hurt minority recruitment, because many people in single-parent households don’t have the time or money to attend college. The former requirement was a high-school diploma or GED.
McHale said six recent applicants were disqualified and suggested the new requirement is misguided.
“Just because you went to school doesn’t give you the skill set to succeed as an officer,” he said.
Abbott expressed frustration that budget cuts forced the elimination of its minority recruitment programs in local high schools and colleges.
“I want to have a diverse department,” he said.
Panel members questioned whether minority recruitment could be reinstated at a lower cost.
“I don’t think it would require much money to offer someone from high school to go to college for a couple of years,” said Dr. John McGruder. “You could do it for $10,000 and get a couple of people.”
The City Commission created the Police Advisory Panel in October to review the police department’s policies and procedures.
Officer educational requirements
• Have earned at least an associate degree, or
• Earned at least 60 hours of college credits, or
• Currently a Florida law enforcement officer in the state of Florida with two years of service, or
• Currently certified as a law enforcement officer in another state, the military or a federal law enforcement agency with two years of service, or
• Received an honorable discharge from the military
Learn from experience
During the Police Advisory Panel’s Jan. 11 meeting, one Sarasota resident urged the panel’s members to join the Citizens Academy, which teaches about how city departments, including the police department, work.
“It seems to me much of the conversation here has been negative,” said Millie Small. “It only seems fair that you go and learn how the police department works.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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