BY MAEVE MCKAIG —
In a predominantly white community like Shorewood, the privileged majority may forget the importance of diversity in public institutions. This includes police departments, which have been under particular scrutiny in light of recent social media campaigns in response to police brutality and corruption.
Theron Rogers, an African American police officer, joined the Shorewood police department on January 18. After a few months on the job, he said he thinks Shorewood has a great attitude toward improving all aspects of diversity.
“I think [the village and police department] are taking a really proactive approach to become more diverse,” Rogers said. “Like I said, in my impression, not specifically just race.
Sometimes I think when people think of diversity they just think of race,but there are a lot of things that diversity encompasses other than race: … socioeconomic background, proximity in the city or in the area,things of that nature.
The department has been very inviting and accepting. The village,the village board members, the people I’ve met, everybody seems openly excited that the department and the village itself are pushing to be more diverse.”
Regarding the high school’s attitude toward racial diversity, Andrew Rekuski,school resource officer, said that he has observed Shorewood to be open minded.Regarding his experience as an officer of color, Rogers said that it has him a new perception of law enforcement.
“I think … coming from the cultural background that I come from, [going into policing] hasn’t always been the cool thing to do because of past impressions of law enforcement,” Rogers said. “It hasn’t been a sought out career field, necessarily. So to join an organization…there is a lot of unknown because what I know is probably things that I’ve seen in the media or on social media, or things I’ve heard, or my limited few experiences. Using that to form my overall experience is coming into a lot of unknowns. [If the community saw what I have seen as an officer] the community[would] actually see that some of the things that are being perpetuated in social media aren’t necessarily true.”
Rekuski also said that the media has skewed the image of the policing profession.“Obviously the profession of policing is under a huge amount of scrutiny because of the different shootings and the different mass media things going on right now,” Rekuski said.
“The only thing I can speak about on those is that I wish the whole side of the story would be given … I’ve been involved in some incidents here at Shorewood that have made the news,and then it’s always interesting how the news skews it and what side they personify,while I was there so I know the truth … They don’t give the full facts because a lot of times if they did give the full facts, it wouldn’t be the news. [People would say] ‘well, that was handled totally appropriately by the police.’”
De’Anthony Manns, an African American senior, lives in Milwaukee. He said that his few experiences with the police have left him with a negative perception. “They’re not the nicest of people, in my experience,” Manns said. “They’re very judgmental, and as soon as they walk up to you they seem like they know what you’re thinking and how you’re going to act. They automatically judge you by what happened and what they think you did, even if you didn’t do it, or even if you did do it, they’ll base everything off of what you do.”
Both Rogers and Rekuski said that although incidents of police brutality or corruption are happening, neither of them has observed anything of that nature in the Shorewood police department.“Are there some things happening? Yes. Is that representative of all of law enforcement or all agencies or small agencies predominantly male, white agencies? No,” Rogers said.
“I’ve never seen anything like that at the Shorewood police department , ” Rekuski said. “Does it happen? I’m sure it does. That’s why you hear some of these egregious stories. With any job or profession, you’re always going to have a few rotten apples that spoil the bunch, and unfortunately with all of the scrutiny that the policing profession is under, those incidents are given a lot of attention. People focus on that and they tend not to focus on all of the good things that have happened, or all of the positive contacts that have happened.”
Rekuski added that in his experience, the Shorewood police department strives to be objective.“I’ve noticed that with everyone else in our department, I would say that everyone is extremely fair,” he said.
Despite this, Rogers and Reksuski both said that improving the amount of diversity in police departments helps to improve relations with the community they serve.
Manns agreed. He said that an officer’s race does affect his instinctive reaction.
“Overall, [race] probably doesn’t really matter, but I feel like if a black officer
walked up to me and questioned me, I would be more likely to give them answers than if a white officer did,” Manns said.
In explaining why racial diversity is important, particularly in police departments, Rogers used the hypothetical scenario of a group of young, African American men playing basketball. It is dark outside, the lights are on, and they are having a good time, being loud.
“[They’re] not disturbing anyone, but it gets the attention of two officers,” Rogers said. “One officer happens to be white. One officer is black. The white officer comes
from a small community, hasn’t had many encounters with an inner-city community.
The black officer comes from … the same community the young guys are from.”
Rogers reasoned that the white officer, not racist in any way, is concerned that the
behavior is disorderly. The black officer, knowing that there is no suspicious activity,is able to teach his partner
. “[The black officer] can tap him on the shoulder and say ‘hey, there’s nothing going on. They’re fine,’” Rogers said. “He says,‘just watch for an extra few seconds before we go approach.’ [After a while,] the guys … finish packing up their stuff. They get into their vehicles and they go home. No issue.”
Rogers said that had there been two white officers in this hypothetical situation,the contact could have ended in a few different ways.
“Let’s say the officer approaches,” Rogers said. “The white officer, a nice guy,
not racist in any way, is just doing his job and wants to protect the community … He goes to investigate in good will, not stereotyping or profiling in any way, but because of … the relationships in the community, the guys who aren’t really doing anything, they’re frustrated, and with reason because they aren’t doing anything.
They don’t want total to the officer, they’re upset, maybe a little defiant. The officer who had a legal right to be there gets frustrated as well.” Rogers said that after having few contacts with law enforcement, they will remember that contact and potentially develop a stereotype of police officers.
The white officers may leave the confrontation with some stereotypes confirmed, also because of their limited interactions with the community.“I try to say all of that because hopefully it kind of brings home how the importance of racial diversity comes into play,” Rogers said.
Manns said that racial diversity is also important because it provides positive
African American role models.“I feel it’s important because without racial diversity
in the police force, there wouldn’t be anyone to show how an African American man can be just as successful as another white police officer, and how they can be just as fair in the eyes of the population,” Manns said.
Rekuski said that the numbers of applicants for policing jobs in general, not accounting for race, gender or socioeconomic status, have decreased recently. He said he thought this might be because of the large amount of scrutiny the profession is under.Rogers said that
a lack of diversity in applicants could also possibly come from officers of color not wanting to work in predominantly white communities.
“I can definitely see that as being a potential issue, but I think the counter question to that is how does an agency counter that to get the diversity there?” Rogers said. “One thing I
know that the Shorewood police department is doing is actually strategizing with ways[to increase diversity]. As the community itself … becomes diverse it does make more sense to have officers [that] mirror [the people] the community is actually made up of.”