PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With recruitment efforts underway for Providence’s next police academy, Chief Oscar Perez is calling on communities of color to consider joining the force.
According to the department, 62% of the force is white, 23% is Hispanic or Latino, 12% is African American, and 3% is Asian. There are currently around 400 officers in total.
Perez, the first person of color to be chief in the capital city, told 12 News a more diverse force influences how effective they are at policing, highlighting the importance of cultural competency.
“When you have an officer that responds to a call, and I’ll put myself as an example, a Latino call, and there’s a party going on, a Puerto Rican party, a Colombian party, we tend to be loud,” Perez said. “And so if you’re not used to and understanding what that means, you may escalate a situation that did not require an escalation.”
Perez said diversity will also influence how officers are able to communicate with individuals who speak foreign languages. Currently, there are 88 Spanish speakers and 13 Portuguese speakers within the department.
One officer is proficient in American Sign Language, while some are proficient in other languages like Italian, Creole, Chinese, Cantonese, and Korean.
“But when an officer pulls up and he doesn’t speak that language, usually the dispatcher and communications will come over the radio and the air and say, ‘Do we have a Spanish-speaking officer?'” Perez explained. “We already know who speaks what language in the district or in the shift and that person will respond.”
When asked what happens if an officer isn’t available, or no one in the department speaks the language needed, Perez said that rarely occurs. In those cases, they use a hotline that connects the officer with an interpreter.
“It’s quick enough, but it’s not as fast as having someone who speaks the language,” Perez added.
The next police academy starts in February 2024. Applications are open through Oct. 31.