A more diverse police force Howard County: Need for more minorities in the department should not be left to accident.

November 22, 1996

MORE THAN HALF the new recruits who graduated this month from the Howard County police academy are women or members of a minority group. Police Chief James N. Robey is to be commended for trying to fulfill promises to make the force more diverse. It is important to have a department that reflects the population its officers are sworn to protect. That is especially so in Howard County, which attracts so many nationalities and cultures.

In addition to five white women, the new class of 25 includes five black men, three black women, two Hispanic men, a Hispanic woman and two Asian men. It is particularly satisfying that the department was able to recruit more qualified black women and Asians, areas where it has not had much success previously. In fact, the Howard County African-American Coalition criticized the chief on this score last year.

The new class brings to 17 percent the proportion of minorities in the 321-person police force. That surpasses county government's overall goal of 15 percent minority employment. Alas, it is still less than the total minority population in Howard, which is about 21 percent, including 28,700 African Americans, 8,000 Asians and 3,700 Hispanics. And in future years, the Asian and Hispanic populations are expected to double and triple, respectively.

Already, the county police is increasingly encountering situations in which it has had to call on someone who is bilingual to help officers understand and be understood by a crime victim or suspect who does not speak English well, if at all. The police academy commander, Lt. Gregory R. Scott, says he has been getting at least one request a week for help from a recruit who could translate Spanish or Korean.

The department has increased minority recruitment by going to historically black colleges such as Morgan State University as well as advertising in African-American publications. It should continue those efforts and explore more ways to seek out qualified Asians and Hispanics. While it is not always possible, or practical, to have an officer of a particular ethnic background available to handle a specific case, that advantage can sometimes be the difference in calming a volatile situation or making witnesses to a crime feel comfortable talking to the police.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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