SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) — As our nation copes with strained police-community relations, the Rhode Island State Police is working to improve diversity within its own ranks.
Eyewitness News reviewed data from the Rhode Island State Police and discovered more than 87 percent of the force is white, and almost 92 percent of troopers are male.
Comparing those numbers to 2015 Census data reveals that several races and ethnicities are not proportionately represented: 7.9 percent of the Rhode Island population is black, compared to 7.3 percent of the State Police; 3.6 percent of Rhode Islanders are Asian, compared to just 0.4 percent of state troopers; and 14.4 percent of the Rhode Island population is Hispanic, compared to just 4 percent of the State Police force.
“I wouldn’t call diversity a problem, but it’s an issue,” admitted Colonel Steven O’Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.
Census figures show Rhode Island’s Black, Asian, and Hispanic populations have all grown by 50 percent or more over the last 15 years. Colonel O’Donnell recognized that this significant shift in the state’s cultural landscape calls for more minorities within the ranks of the State Police.
“No question we are certainly underrepresented in Hispanic population and the Southeast Asians that work in the State Police.”
Last week, the Rhode Island State Police Training Academy graduated 26 new troopers, including just one Hispanic candidate. Seven other minorities, as well as 22 white males, dropped out of the class because of the demanding physical strain.
- Read More: RI State Police welcome 26 new troopers
“Those minorities who have dropped out is because they had no idea of what they were getting into,” said community organizer Kobi Dennis. “They don’t know what it takes to become a law enforcement officer.”
To that end, the Rhode Island State Police has begun a new program aimed at giving minority candidates a taste of what it takes to make the force. The State Police Diversity Academy offers a six week introduction to police training, free of charge.
“The intensity level is not even close to the academy level because it’s not for all the marbles,” Colonel O’Donnell explained. “It’s just kind of to indoctrinate them into what we do.”
“By experiencing it here, it’s not as much of a shock,” added State Police Lieutenant Darnell Weaver.
Kobi Dennis believes the State Police Diversity Academy could be an important step toward improving diversity within law enforcement.
“Everyone thinks that we’re saying we want minority police officers to help better manage the minority community. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about accessibility. It’s about opportunity.”
Participants in the Diversity Academy range in age from 12 to 30 years old.
Another issue facing the Rhode Island State Police is the disparity between male and female troopers. Less than nine-percent of troopers are women, despite nearly 52 percent of the Rhode Island population being female.
“The population is 50/50, so by law enforcement standards, or by population standards, we’re way below the norm,” admitted Colonel O’Donnel.
O’Donnell said State Police are actively recruiting within the community and making stops in local schools to help increase the interest level of both women and minorities.
“We’re trying to use our own people to go out and diversify from the minority ranks, but also the female ranks. It’s helpful.”