Boston Police officer Michael Gaskins. Photo: Ivy Wang

By Ivy Wang

During the past two years, the number of applicants signing up to become police officers has dropped significantly across the nation, especially among minority groups, according to the head of the state’s major police chief’s group.

Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police, attributes that drop to the current negative view of the police that started with the shooting of an African-American man by police in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014. He said young men and women have “become hesitant in their tracks towards becoming an officer.” Kyes added that the way to change the trend is to provide young people with guidance.

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That guidance will now be coming from Boston Police Diversity Recruitment Officer Michael Gaskins, who was appointed in February. With a background in career counseling, Gaskins said his goal is to help transition police officers of color from recruitment to promotion, with emphasis on getting them into commanding ranks.

“I believe that seeing someone that looks like you who has made it to the top has a tremendous impact,” he said.

According to WGBH, 42 percent of superintendent-level positions in the Boston Police Department are now filled by minorities. However, that ratio is not the same for other supervisory positions. Of 26 captains, only three are people of color. Only eight of 78 lieutenants are from minority groups.

Gaskins added that increasing diversity can boost trust in the community.

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“There’s a natural bias and identity that happens when we see someone who we identify with,” he said. “Our end goal is that we want to be a reflection of our community.”

Gaskins says his plan is to continue gathering information about the current police force in order to establish a concrete plan of action for recruitment strategy. In August, he will be involved in advising a counsel for the new police recruits.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, says that is not enough.

Espinoza-Madrigal’s larger concern is that the Boston Police Department has yet to “really commit to making sure that it has community inclusion and transparency across the board.” Noting he had to sue the Department to get basic demographic data, he believes that the “biggest roadblock is the lack of diversity as a priority.”

“If the police department continues to be predominantly white, it is their mission to change that so it reflects and looks like the City of Boston,” he says. “If the department was as quick to hire police officers of color as it was to hire a diversity officer, then we wouldn’t have a problem at all.”

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