Candidates for three Rochester City Council ward seats said the city is headed in the right direction when it comes to diversity in it’s police department.
“Obviously you can’t change that overnight, because you only hire so many officers a year,” Ward 6 candidate Craig Ugland said in response to a question during Tuesday’s online candidate forum held by the Rochester Branch of the NAACP and Rochester Interfaith Immigrant Rights Coalition.
All six candidates credited efforts made by Police Chief Jim Franklin since he joined the department in 2018.
Earlier this year, Franklin said the Rochester department had 22 women and people of color, or about 16.5 percent of the force, when he started. With the addition of 10 new officers in February, the number moved to 19.3 percent.
Molly Dennis, the other Ward 6 candidate, called it a good start, but also pointed to a need to consider what other communities are doing to find diverse candidates for the police ranks, as well as other public-service jobs.
“We need to see what barriers are keeping them from applying and staying in the job,” she said, adding that helping pay for training might be a step in the right direction.
Ugland aiso cited support for training, pointing to an idea presented by former Ward 6 candidate Donavan Bailey, which would create a local police academy that could work with potential recruits before they obtained the required two-year degree to become a police officer.
Ward 2 incumbent Michael Wojcik also pointed to Bailey’s suggestion and noted the department already offers some entry level options to recruit people who reflect the diverse community, but added more should be done.
“Youth in our city are 40 percent black and brown, so we need to realize our future needs to look like that as well,” he said, pointing to the city council’s plan to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion director as a step in that direction.
His Ward 2 challenger, Mark Bransford, said the work needs to involve more than leadership. He said current officers need to be encouraged to be role models, whcih will make younger residents more likely to want to join the police force.
“Right now, I don’t think there are a lot of role models in this line of business,” he said.
Ward 4 candidate Katrina Pulham also pointed to the need to find ways to encourage more young people to consider policing as a career, indicating the department can’t hire diverse officers if they don’t apply.
“We need to have a diverse group applying and wanting the job to really make a change,” she said.
Her Ward 4 opponent, Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick, said creating a youth academy to reach out to culturally diverse groups could be a step toward encouraging younger residents to consider careers in law enforcement.
“They are doing a lot of good things, but they need to reach out to youth,” she said of the Rochester department’s efforts to diversify the force.
The candidates also addressed questions related to Destination Medical Centers, the potential for the creation of municipal identification cards, affordable housing and the use of choke holds by police officers.
The program was livestreamed on Rochester Branch of the NAACP’s Facebook page and remains on the site for viewing ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
The next forums held by the NAACP and Rochester Interfaith Immigrant Rights Coalition will feature Minnesota House and Senate candidates. They will start at 5 p.m. Thursday on the Rochester Branch of the NAACP’s Facebook page.