Had it not been for positive interactions with three Durham Regional Police Service officers, Keith Richards might not have considered a career in policing.
Growing up in Pickering, he periodically crossed paths with officers Rick Bates, Dave Perry and Steve Mackey – they are retired now – while they were patrolling his neighbourhood.
“They took the time to get to know me,” said Richards, who is now a Sergeant with the Service. “They would pull up with their car whenever they saw me, ask me how I am doing and engage me in a conversation. That experience changed me so much that I wanted to be like them just because of the positive vibes I got in my interactions with those officers. Even my parents, who were anti-police back then, changed because of that experience. That engagement with me changed a generation in my family.”
In an attempt to make Durham Regional Police more representative of the municipality it serves, Richards – who is in charge of his Service’s recruiting and staffing unit – is considering a shadowing pilot project to bring more minorities and women to the organization.
Of the Service’s nearly 900 uniformed and 300 civilian members, about eight per cent are minorities and 19 per cent are women.
“I would love to see a scenario where we could take some young Black and other minority applicants that are considering a career in policing and mentor them as they go through the application process,” he said. “We want to make sure that they are successful.”
Before getting to the point where young Blacks and other minorities may want to apply to become police officers, the Service has to win their confidence.
Again, a young person’s positive experiences with police can help advance the recruiting process, as Constable Pam Devine can attest to.
A school resource officer in Durham’s central west region, Devine responded to a theft call a few years ago involving a student whose gold chain was stolen.
“After her interaction with me, she told me in no uncertain manner that she wanted to be a police officer,” said Devine, who spent seven years with Toronto Police up until 1992 before moving to Durham. “She went to Durham College and we met again when I was asked to speak at the school and she was in the class that I addressed. Again, she told me that she still wanted to become a cop and she was trying to decide between Durham and Toronto. Her thing was that in Toronto, she sees more officers that look like her and she feels she would be more welcoming in such an environment.”
Constable Michael Pierre-Louis understands why minority youth are hesitant about joining an organization in which they don’t see themselves represented.
“If every time they look in a police car and they don’t see someone looking like them in there, of course, they will not want to become police officers,” said Pierre-Louis, a cop for the last 25 years and an active member of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE).
Richards feels it’s critical that officers reach out to young people in high schools.
“Some kids may have certain experiences with the police that were not good or they just don’t know anything about the profession,” he said. “Those are the ones we want to get to at a young age. If we wait until they are adults to try to engage them, we will be unsuccessful in trying to lure them to policing. We want to ensure that we win them over on our side while they are still in school. It’s also important that we gain the confidence and trust of their parents in the same way those officers secured my parents’ trust.”
For the first time, the Durham Regional Police Service will co-sponsor the ABLE awards fundraising ball on Saturday, May 9 at the Ajax Convention Centre, 550 Beck Crescent in Ajax.
Buffalo Police department deputy commissioner, Kimberly Beaty, will deliver the keynote address, while Missouri State Highway patrol captain, Ronald Johnson, will also speak at the event.