Mesa Police Department seeks to recruit diverse groups of officers

If it were not for the connections he built with local police officers as a teenager, Mesa Police Department Lt. Ruben Quesada said he might not have been in the profession.

“I grew up in Maryvale and was involved in the (Phoenix Police Department) Police Activities League,” Lt. Quesada said. “I met police officers, specifically these guys were all Hispanic because I am Hispanic. I connected with these guys. It made me connect on a personal level, in that these individuals are just like I am. I considered them family members.”

Lt. Quesada, who is in charge of the Mesa Police Department’s Hiring Unit, said engaging teens during the formative years helped the department recruit and hire a more diverse group of officers.

Since implementing the Community Engaged Hiring Initiative in 2013, the police department has hired 30 percent more minority officers for Class 35, 35 percent more for Class 36, 47 percent more for Class 37, 44 percent more for Class 38 and 46 percent more for Class 39, according to data from the department’s 2016 Latino Town Hall. Broken down by ethnicity, Hispanics compromised 20 percent of new officer hires in Class 36, 47 percent in Class 37, 38 percent in Class 38 and 18 percent in Class 39. The classes make up the Mesa Police Academy, the department’s training facility for new recruits.

The Latino Student Conference is Mesa Police Department’s version of the Police Activities League that Lt. Quesada said he participated in and is one of many recruiting events the Mesa Police Department Hiring Unit has taken part in over the past year, according to the 2016 Latino Town Hall report.

Lt. Quesada said The Latino Student Conference has been a collaborative effort between the department and Mesa Public Schools and said a combination of ninth through 12th-grade students have participated at past conferences.

“We try to engage the teens to policing and police offers to let them know ‘hey there is a face and a story behind this badge’,” Lt. Quesada said.

The Latino Town Hall, Lt. Quesada said, is another recruiting event the department has invested time into to inform Hispanics about different job opportunities the department offers.

“From the police department perspective, it (the town hall) is meant to educate, inform and partner with the Hispanic and Spanish speaking community so that we are just not a faceless entity that you can connect with people who may have similar backgrounds,” Lt. Quesada said.

The police department, the Latino Town Hall report said, pays a yearly subscription to advertise on various online employment sites. One website Mesa Police Department has subscribed to is Saludos.com, a site for potential Hispanic employees and Hispanic employers.

Lt. Quesada said online ventures like Saludos.com helps the department “look outside the box,” and reach a larger audience.

“Were looking at new opportunities to meet more people, not only within the state but across the country,” Lt. Quesada said.

In addition to the efforts already mentioned, Lt. Quesada said the department has reached out to various organizations including the National Latino Police Officers Association, a Hispanic police officer organization, and the Hispanic American Police Officers Association, which Lt. Quesada said help the accession of Latinos in policing.

“They (the organizations) have helped bring awareness to the topic of Latinos in policing,” Lt. Quesada said.

Michael Scott, an ASU clinical professor and director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, said it is generally understood a diverse police force helps the police be more effective.

“It partly has to do with the issue you mentioned and that is communication,” Mr. Scott said. “Can we even understand, can we communicate with the people who live, work and visit our community? Beyond that, there is some general benefit in having a police department that demographically reflects the community that it polices. It gets at the public’s perception that the police department is fair and part of that fairness is that members of the police department likely understand the community.”

Mesa City Councilman Ryan Winkle of District 3 said the importance of diversity in the Mesa Police Department cannot be overstated.

“When our police are a real reflection of our neighborhoods, trust between police and community members flourishes,” Mr. Winkle said. “We need to focus on improving that diversity and making our police department the best it can be.”

As a Hispanic himself, Lt. Quesada said a more diverse presence of officers in the department is personal.

“It feels like family,” Lt. Quesada said. “Growing up in the Latino and Hispanic culture and being able to connect with other Latinos in policing makes you connect on a familial level with other Latinos and especially other Spanish speakers within the department.”

Joe Jacquez is a journalism student at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and wrote the article as a class assignment.

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