Holistic Approach

Police Bureau’s new efforts to recruit minority officers

Zachary Senn | 1/4/2017, 11:08 a.m.
The Portland Police Bureau has launched a new police officer recruitment initiative to increase the force’s diversity and boost officer ...
Portland Police office Joana Ortiz, assigned to patrol in the Police Bureau’s North Precinct, participates in a new Portland Police Bureau police recruitment video to help attract more minority and women police officers to the bureau’s ranks.

The Portland Police Bureau has launched a new police officer recruitment initiative to increase the force’s diversity and boost officer retention. The goal is to remove barriers from its hiring process in order to widen the pool of potential applicants. A newly-produced video accompanies the effort, which features a diverse group of active-duty Portland Police officers describing why they find their jobs rewarding.

“What we’re really trying to do is increase the appeal of law enforcement and the Portland Police Bureau to a diverse community,” explains police Sgt. Peter Simpson, the Bureau’s public information officer.

Like so many police departments around the country, the ranks of the Portland’s police officers have been mostly white and male; failing to look like the city it serves.

“A lot of agencies struggle to attract candidates of diverse backgrounds,” Simpson said, citing one major factor as having to do with the historical distrust of law enforcement in certain communities.

The new recruitment effort attempts to appeal to applicants of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds but also to women and members of the LGBTQ community. Portland expects to fill over 70 vacant police positions in the immediate future and prepare for hundreds of police officers who will retire in the next few years.

Officer Joana Ortiz, who is assigned to patrol in the North Precinct, appears in the latest recruitment video. She faces the camera to describe how many people stop her and remark that she is the first Hispanic woman they have ever seen on the force. “I really didn’t expect to be a police officer. I actually didn’t like police officers growing up, because of the tension we had,” she explains.

While Ortiz is not a member of the Bureau’s Personnel Division, she frequently attends police officer recruiting drives at schools and other institutions, Simpson said.

Uncage the Soul, the local production company that was responsible for the video’s making, explains the methodology that was utilized throughout the video’s production: “We understood that the national and local conversations about policing required sensitivity and honesty… We felt that an unscripted and transparent look at policing was appropriate.” The video features a diverse assortment of Portland Police officers both in the field and in interviews, extolling the virtues of both the Bureau and life in the Northwest.

Simpson explains that the agency is also pushing for deeper, more systemic change, “This isn’t a hollow recruiting pitch at all. It’s a holistic approach to increasing the overall diversity of the organization.”

Simpson says the Bureau’s efforts are focused on fostering a welcoming environment and comfortable workspace for officers of all backgrounds. On the ongoing educational efforts to understand and embrace minority concerns, he states, “This year, every officer was trained in a baseline equity and diversity course that talks about racial injustice in the country, but more directly, in the city of Portland.”

Simpson states that the Bureau hopes to recruit a force that mirrors the city itself, demographically speaking. Data from the 2010 census shows that about 24 percent of the city’s populace belongs to a minority group, while the Portland Police Bureau’s current percentage of minority officers is just about 16 percent. Simpson explains the value in having a diverse law enforcement force: “We need to look like the community we serve… It increases our ability to develop trust in the community.”

Under the incoming administration of recently-inaugurated Mayor Ted Wheeler, Simpson said that he is optimistic the Police Bureau’s hiring initiatives will only grow stronger. Speaking to future efforts to increase the force’s diversity, Simpson states, “He made it very clear that that’s a priority of his.” Simpson said, “Recruiting good candidates is important to the health of the city.”

For more information on the Police Bureau’s officer recruitment process, visit joinportlandpolice.com.