About 30 people, mostly minority youths from Paterson, joined a diverse group of law enforcement officials from various organizations on Sunday afternoon inside the Masonic Temple Lodge 51 on Broadway for the Law Enforcement Diversity Recruitment Expo, an informational event that highlights the need for diversity in law enforcement as well as career opportunities.
Jevonn Mcrae, a Paterson police officer, shared the story of an event that unfolded inside Omar Mosque, the days following 9/11, when a gunman entered the building with the intent to cause causalities. A female officer was dispatched to the scene, but because of her gender, she could not enter the mosque to take control of the situation. She called backup, more officers responded to the incident; however, they were not allowed inside because they had their shoes on. This was all going on while the gunman was still inside the Getty Avenue building.
Police officers went inside the mosque with shoes which caused considerable bad blood between the Arab community of South Paterson and Paterson Police Department. At a time when authorities needed the help of the community to find would-be-terrorists they could not afford to alienate them by marching inside mosques with shoes. Only if the police force was more diverse, and if it had a few officers from the Arab community they could have brought the situation under control without causing offense.
“This is about people from our community becoming police officers,” said Dalton Price, the president of Bronze Shields of Passaic County, a county-wide African-American police association that sponsored the event. Mr Price explained that people from a specific community are aware of the issues in that community, he said, “people in your community understand things about your community.” In other words, a person who lives and patrols the streets of her neighborhood is likely to be more effective than an outsider, who may not understand the community’s culture.
One theme was pervasive throughout the presentation, mainly, that “Minorities don’t consider law enforcement as an option,” according to William Schievella, president of New Jersey Police Community Affairs Officers Association. The reason behind it is due to the mistrust the exists between police departments and the minority communities.
Attendees watched an actual police training video from the Paterson Police Academy which showed future officers doing push-ups, running outside while there is snow on the ground, and instructors brusquely getting in the faces of trainees. A demonstration of what a person must go through prior to becoming an officer at the city.
Richard Berdnik, the Passaic county sheriff, was at the event, and he offered three tips for those who are seeking a career in law enforcement, he said:
1. Look for the exam online, have that done.
2. Be ambitious and have a strong drive.
3. And finally he said, “If you want it bad enough you can accomplish anything.”
Geavonne Owens, 28-year-old, who was attending the event in order to become a law enforcement officer, said she had a passion to protect and serve her community. Ms Owens who works at the local hospital and has a young child at home says her father was in law enforcement and so were other members of her family. She had gone through physical training at Highland Park Police Training Academy, and attended the event to learn more about the application processes of the various law enforcement agencies.
Sean St. Paul, of the New Jersey Department of Correction, summed up the event’s purpose: “It’s about diversity; it’s about getting young people hired.” Having a diverse police force will certainly make it easier to police diverse communities.