March 22, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 32
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Ads aim to diversify Boston Police Dept

David Pomerantz

Since February, the advertisements have beckoned from billboards, in subway cars and in local newspapers.

“Join the BPD,” the ads implore, promising potential police “many jobs, one career,” and a hand in shaping “Boston’s future.”

The ad blitz is part of a recent recruitment drive undertaken by the Boston Police Department that aims to both swell the ranks of the department and increase its diversity.

Since 1997, the BPD has experienced a steep decline in the number of job applicants, from 5,430 in that year to only 1,345 in 2005, according to department data.

Running dangerously low on new recruits, the department is now spending $100,000 in advertising to try to reverse the trend.

The campaign is specifically targeting the city’s minority populations. The police department currently lists 35 percent of its 2,200-member force as “minority officers,” categorizing 25 percent as black, 8 percent as Hispanic, and only as 2 percent Asian.

“We have ads in El Planeta in the Hispanic community and Sampan in the Asian community, which actually translated an ad for us,” said BPD spokesperson Elaine Driscoll, who helped organize the ad campaign. “We made sure to put the ad in several bus shelters in Chinatown. The recruiting officers were very specific about the communities they seek to reach.”

One specific recruiting target is the Cape Verdean community. Currently, the force employs only 19 Cape Verdean officers, according to the Boston Globe.

An influx of new Cape Verdean officers could yield significant benefits for the BPD. Boston’s Cape Verdean community, much of which is located in Dorchester, is plagued with disproportionately high crime numbers. Part of the problem for the police is that many Cape Verdeans do not speak English, only Cape Verdean Creole (Crioulo), making it difficult to strengthen police-community relations. Officers who could speak the language would provide a valuable asset.

Aside from the language barrier, other cultural factors have further isolated the Cape Verdean community from the police.

“I think historically in Cape Verde itself there was a lack of trust between the authorities and residents due to its colonial and military background,” said Emmett Folgert, program director at the Dorchester Youth Collaborative.

Dorchester community leaders like Folgert and Paulo De Barros say that more Cape Verdean officers are sorely needed.

De Barros runs the Teen Center at St. Peter’s, an after-school program for youth ages 13-19 at Bowdoin Street and Quincy Street in Dorchester. Ninety percent of the students at the center are Cape Verdean.

“There’s definitely a need,” De Barros said. “Cultural competency needs to be taught to officers regarding the Cape Verdean community.”

The police face a number of challenges in seeking Cape Verdean recruits. Many Cape Verdeans who might be potential applicants have not yet gained full citizenship. Others might not have the English skills to pass the May 19 civil service exam, a requirement for applicants to become recruits.

Still others might be over the age limit for BPD recruits, which is 32.

De Barros knows these obstacles firsthand. His father was a police officer in Cape Verde, and ever since he came here in 1991 with his mother and brothers, he says his dream has been to be a homicide investigator.

In many ways, De Barros is just the type of recruit that the BPD wants. He’s bilingual, with strong ties to the Cape Verdean community. After attending Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester, De Barros graduated from Bridgewater State College with degrees in sociology and criminology.

But when De Barros graduated, he didn’t have his citizenship. Now, he is 36 and over the age limit for new recruits. City Councilor Michael Flaherty recently suggested waiving the age requirement in an effort to find more recruits.

Since De Barros cannot join himself, he says he’s doing everything he can to help the BPD recruit more Cape Verdeans.

He says BPD recruiting officers asked if he knew of any potential Cape Verdean or Haitian candidates that he could recommend and asked to have an information session at the St. Peter’s center.

“Logistically, it’s definitely an interest of mine to work very closely with the recruiters to find good candidates,” De Barros said. “They’re trying to build a relationship of trust in the community. There’s definitely a need.”

De Barros told the officers he did know of some potential candidates, but that several of them didn’t have their citizenship papers yet, echoing his own past.

Despite the obstacles, De Barros said there are potential recruits out there in the Cape Verdean community.

“There are a lot of candidates, but the [police] haven’t exploited their potential the right way,” De Barros said. “They need to come to church events, to community events. They need to have more signs up in Creole — I know you have to speak English to be a cop, but maybe a grandmother or grandfather who doesn’t speak English sees the sign, and they have a grandson or nephew who does and would be a good candidate.”

Nonetheless, De Barros praises the police department for its new campaign.

“They’re trying. It’s amazing to see it done for the first time. I’m happy to see it. They saw the need,” De Barros said.

“This is not going to, say, help solve more crimes, but if they pick the right candidates, they could help a lot of things to be prevented.”

 The deadline for the civil service exam is April 2. People interested in applying can visit

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