LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Little Rock Police Department said 34 people of Hispanic descent have applied to join the force amid a push for a more-diverse agency.
The applicants still have a series of background checks, interviews and tests to pass before being hired, but the numbers are more than the department has received in recent years, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Police spokesman Lt. Steven McClanahan said the department had no Hispanic applicants in 2013. The department currently has 12 Hispanic officers, who comprise around 2 percent of the entire agency.
Little Rock police officials have attended church services and job fairs for months appealing for Hispanic and bilingual applicants.
All officers on the force are taught enough phrases in Spanish to be able to get a person’s name, paperwork and birthdate during a traffic stop or another interaction with a Hispanic person who doesn’t speak English. In more difficult circumstances, officers who are fluent in Spanish are often called to translate.
The city has a Hispanic population of more than 13,000, which is just under 7 percent of its total population. Sgt. Harold Scratch, who helps train police recruits, said the Hispanic population in Little Rock is made up of people from many different countries, but one thing they do share is a historic distrust of police.
Officer Jacob Tobler, one of about 12 officers who speak Spanish, said that many Hispanic residents come from countries where police are expected to be bribed for their services or are otherwise corrupt. He and Scratch have spoken at multiple church services throughout Little Rock to help combat the perception that those things are true about police in Little Rock.
Tobler said he’s optimistic the department can increase the number of bilingual and Hispanic officers, which Scratch took a little further.
“Optimistic ain’t the word,” Scratch said. “This is going to happen. It is going to work. Period. Because we’re going to put the effort to it.”