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Henrico, Chesterfield working to follow Richmond’s lead in officer diversity

RICHMOND, Va. -- A small group of men and women training to become police officers in Henrico County on the last day of February, illustrates a huge challenge the department faces: a lack of diversity.

More than 30 percent of Henrico residents are black, but in the police department, they make up just 31 of the department's 628 officers.

"It was pretty staggering to see that less than 5 percent of your officers are black," CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit said to Henrico Police Chief Humberto Cardounel.

"It’s something that we continue to work hard towards... we want our police department to be a representation of our community," Cardounel responded. "Do we want to recruit more diversity? Absolutely, do we need help? Absolutely."

A CBS 6 Problem Solvers investigation inadvertently highlighted the issue when we showcased a program in Highland Springs geared toward mentoring young African-American boys.

After the story aired, several viewers reached out asking why all of the Henrico officers mentoring the boys were white.

"I hear it, I see it, we often refer to questions regarding why isn’t there more diversity, and my response is help us, we want to have that diversity, but we have to rely on the community to promote your local police department," Cardounel said.

As Henrico County's first Hispanic chief of police, Cardounel exemplifies diversity himself.

He wants his department to be more diverse, but he said it's been difficult to find minority candidates who qualify.

"I will tell you it’s not because of a lack of effort,” Cardounel said. “We've dedicated a tremendous amount of resources and personnel toward recruiting for diversity."

Henrico County is not alone.

In Chesterfield, a recruit class photo released last August raised some eyebrows because all of the officers in the picture were white.

"I think we all saw it because it was right there in front of us," Captain A.J. Starke, who is African-American, with Chesterfield County Police said.

"I saw that picture as well, and I was like wow."

Nearly a quarter of Chesterfield's residents are black, but less than eight percent of the police force is black.

"I’m happy that you're doing this story because I want the community to see that we do take this seriously," Starke said.

Captain Starke became the person in charge of overseeing recruitment shortly after that picture surfaced.

Starke, a Chesterfield native, brings a dose of real talk to the recruiting process.

"Twenty-five years ago growing up in Chesterfield County, I told my family members I wanted to be a police officer with Chesterfield County, and I was told don’t get your hopes up because Chesterfield doesn't hire a lot of blacks," Starke said.

He shares that story when pursuing diverse recruits at historically black colleges and Fort Lee.

Still, he said diversifying his department has not been easy.

"Now that I’m actually the division commander, and I’m in charge of the process, I will tell you it is tough finding qualified applicants," Starke said.

But there is one local police department that seems to be having success.

Training academy group in Richmond

In the City of Richmond, nearly one in three police officers are black.

"Why do you have a number that is far higher than anybody else in the area?" Hipolit asked Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham.

"Surprisingly Richmond has had a history in hiring minority officers.  It started back in the 1940's," Durham said.

Durham pointed out a photo that shows the city's first black officers that were hired in 1946.

But more recently, Chief Durham credits former Chief Rodney Monroe, and former Mayor Doug Wilder, for making it a point to bring in more minority officers, which is something he pushes his recruiters to do as well.

"It starts with your recruiting unit. You've got to make sure you have the right personnel, and the right personalities in those positions when you’re looking to go out and bring folks into your department," Durham said.

Durham said ongoing community policing efforts make his department more attractive to minority recruits even when the starting pay in Richmond is lower than Chesterfield and Henrico.

And while Durham admits work still needs to be done, he believes his department can serve as a role model for others.

"If we can do it maybe other agencies can follow suit," Durham said. "I think we can assist them in doing better."

Durham said RPD just started partnering with Richmond Public Schools to bring students twice a month into the training academy.

He said the ultimate goal will be to hire them as soon as they graduate to be civilian employees, and later, send them to the police academy.

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