Authorities in the City of St. Louis on Tuesday officially adopted an existing program to boost minority recruiting efforts in the law enforcement and public safety departments. The change comes months after the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown exposed racial tensions in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.
During a press conference on Tuesday, City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said authorities have witnessed "the mistrust that can be created when a mostly white police department patrols mostly African-American neighborhoods." Almost half — 47% — of the city's total population is comprised of minorities, who make up 34% of the city's officials, he added.
"The more that neighbors have trust in the police officers who protect them, the better they will work together to root out criminals and reduce crime. The better police officers understand the dynamics of the neighborhoods they patrol, the better they will be at differentiating the good guys from the bad guys," he said.
Slay commended police officers, who, he added, demonstrated "poise and patience" during recent violent demonstrations. After Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Brown on Aug. 9, protests and violence broke out in the St. Louis suburb. The community continues to demand justice as the grand jury considers charges against Wilson.
The new initiative won't directly affect the other 89 municipalities in St. Louis County, including Ferguson, but officials hope the towns will adopt a similar plan to create more diverse police forces and public safety departments. In Ferguson, about two-thirds of the residents are black, and the police force is reportedly about 93% white. But some local officials, including Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, have denied the existence of a racial divide in the town.
Through the initiative, which will cost the city $50,000, authorities will work with the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP) and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to help identify and prepare potential minorities for careers in police and public safety. They plan to recruit African-American individuals and mentor them through a 10-week program that will include interview and report-writing skills, fitness, professional etiquette, and community-oriented policing strategies. Ultimately, ESOP, which assists black officers in the city, will help strong candidates apply to the Police Academy.
ESOP began working on the program in January, but representatives' reach was limited due to a lack of funding. The city's official implementation of the program and its funding is expected to bolster diversity, which advocates said has been on the rise during the past 10 months.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of St. Louis' NAACP, called the officials' decision "extremely important" because the city is one of the largest municipalities in St. Louis County. It was "wonderful news to my ears," Pruitt told msnbc.
"While we are all waiting on a decision from the grand jury, with respect to Michael Brown ... we can't ignore the fact that there's a growing disparity within the police department," he added. "We cannot sit on our hands and not do anything about it."