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As US police struggle to recruit, young cops seeks more humane approach

New York, US: Stephanie Robinson, 23, a rookie Black police officer on Detroit's West Side, has been challenged by Black residents about her loyalty while on patrol since the death of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer.

"It's like you're either going to be Black or your going to be a cop. And then when I'm like, well you know, I'm supporting Black people, but at the same time I'm supporting police officers too, good police officers anyway," Robinson said. Robinson says she is committed to the force, but is also openly critical of police training and methods. "We learn how to arrest people, how to do takedowns. We learn how to deal with criminals," she told Reuters. But Robinson said daily dealings with victims of abuse and people with mental illness are not well addressed.

Growing concern among young officers and cadets about racism and brutality in U.S. law enforcement after Floyd's death is the latest complication for police recruiters already struggling to hire and retain new cops. 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."
Job applications have plummeted in many police departments over the past five years, falling 50% in Seattle, for example, and 70% in Jefferson County, Colorado, a 2019 study by PERF showed. About 16% of the U.S. police force hits retirement age in the next five years, the study found. As local governments curb police powers, and Congress pushes reform bills, some of the police workforce of the future is also beginning to question how policing is done and their role in it.

This next generation wants better training; a more transparent, flexible and accountable police presence; and closer ties to the communities they serve. "We are not waiting two, three, four years for change. We need to change now - right now," said DeCarlos Hines, a forensic psychology major and president of the Black Student Union at New York City's John Jay School of Criminal Justice, which is one of the biggest feeders into U.S. law enforcement.
Hiring and keeping Black and other minority officers is one of many challenges facing police recruiters, the PERF report 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.

A patrol officer for just over six months, Robinson says she was not taught how to handle the most common issue she faces: people with mental illness. "Honestly, 90% of the runs I go to every day are mental (health) runs," she said. Young cops are not an organized political force, nor do they have any control over police or university budgets. But police veterans and educators charged with filling jobs as the force ages say their views cannot be ignored.
At the John Jay School in New York, 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.
Karol Mason, who leads John Jay, 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% 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," she said. "You often hear 'You can't be what you can't see.'" Elias Oleaga, 19, joined the Boy Scout-founded Law Enforcement Exploring program when he was 13 and met veteran cops with a strong commitment to serving his Dominican community in the Bronx.
Now a student at John Jay, Oleaga says the national debate about policing has not shaken his desire to become an officer. "Us young guys, we always have the thought of getting the guns off the streets and getting your shield, your gold shield, but I don't think that there is anything better than looking at the cop in front of me and he looks just like me," he said. But because of Floyd's death, Oleaga said he now plans to focus his police career on community relations rather than his original choice, investigations.

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