Rochester Police Department pushes for 1,000 recruits for police exam by August

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Rochester Police Department is trying to recruit 1,000 people to take the police exam in three months.

The chairs of the recruiting push are Bishop Dr. Johnny Harris from Provision Full Gospel Baptist Church and Getachew “GG” Beshir, who heads the refugee resettlement service at Catholic Charities Family and Community Services.

It also includes the Urban League, and at a news conference Monday morning launching the recruiting push, the Urban League’s Dr. Candice Lucas said it’s not controversial to say that sometimes the relationship between the community and the RPD is a little fraught. She said one way to deal with that is to have a diverse police force that understands the community.

“Because the police are needed, the community need the police,” Dr. Lucas said. “They just want to make sure they’re respected, they want to make sure they’re treated fairly, they want to make sure they’re understood.”

RPD and the recruiting team has a lot of work to do to get a police force that reflects the diversity of our city, and more work winning over the hearts and minds of the candidates.

I asked Bishop Harris and GG Beshir about the first thing that comes up when they talk to young people and their families about police.

Their answers were the same: fear.

“Well, the first reaction is they’re scared, because of so many things that have happened in the midst of our city,” Harris said.

Beshir says many of the refugees and immigrant he helps resettle in Rochester escaped police brutality in their home country.

“So every time they hear police, it means danger,” he said. “It takes time to believe in the police being a force of peace.”

I shared what Harris and Beshir said with the man who recruited them: RPD Deputy Chief Keith Stith.

Berkeley Brean, News10NBC: “And the first thing both of them said was fear. How do you deal with that?”

Keith Stith, RPD deputy chief of special operations: “In terms of the community?”

Berkeley Brean, News10NBC: “Yeah.”

Keith Stith, RPD deputy chief of special operations: “It’s that restorative dialogue. Not being afraid to have those tough conversations in the community. What I learned is that when people have candid conversations, set aside all the shouting and screaming at one another, when you listen to one another, it’s okay to be wrong. People tend to forgive you.”

RPD is down 66 officers. The department currently has 656. If RPD was fully staffed, it would have 722.
Last year, it graduated eight people in its workforce development program, a unique approach which gets potential recruits volunteering in the community they could serve.

The ultimate goal is to have a police force that looks like the city. Thirty-eight percent of the city is Black, but only 14 percent of sworn RPD officers are Black. Fifty-one percent of the city is female, but only 21 percent of RPD.

Stith became a cop in New Jersey when he was 24.

“I truly wanted to help people. I just have that servant heart. So when I say I wanted to help people 33 years ago, I meant it. It wasn’t a catch phrase,” he said.

Berkeley Brean, News10NBC: “So is that a story you tell young people you run into?”

Keith Stith, RPD deputy chief of special operations: “So, I tell people to take this job not for adventure. You take the job for service. That’s why we take the job.”

Candidates can be between ages 19 and 34. The deadline to apply is Aug. 6.

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