Omaha Police highlight diversity in recruiting amidst racial tension

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 9:26 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - If you’re on social media, you likely have come across at least one snippet from officers of all rank within Omaha Police, sharing their pride for the force and urging you to join.

“I chose this profession for a desire and passion to serve and help others.” This quote is from a recent recruit of the 2019 class. A young, Black officer, with natural hair.

Another, comes from a male officer, with visible tattoos, who describes himself as coming from a deaf family. He uses sign language while speaking in his recruiting video. “We’re looking for well-rounded individuals from various backgrounds,” he said.

In a year spanning several viral topics like race, identity, equity, and inclusion - it’s impossible to ignore the layered diversity which they reflect.

And that’s just a drop in the bucket if you ask Lieutenant Gregg Barrios. Barrios has twenty-five years with OPD and in the last five, he’s headed their Backgrounds department, working with the city and citizens to ensure the department’s diverse make-up, looks more like the communities it serves.

“Wherever large groups of people are - that we can find potential applicants - we’ll go there. Colleges, career fairs, military bases, marathons.” Lt. Barrios listed. But he adds while that focus on diversity has been under the microscope recently, this isn’t new for them. He went on to say the department looks for recruiting opportunities in everything they do - especially community events that happen throughout the year, like holiday celebrations, Shop with a Cop, etc.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a challenge though. “There’s a small group out there of people interested in law enforcement and all the agencies in the Midwest, we’re all competing for that same finite group.” the Lieutenant explained. He also recognized that current racial tension spurred by George Floyd protests have created some mistrust between the community and police, but that only makes it more important for his officers to maintain the standards and moral codes with which they’ve been trained, he added.

Here’s the current ethnic breakdown of the department:

Those numbers are up slightly in several categories, despite the department being a little smaller. While proud of this accomplishment, both Barrios and Sergeant Anthony Conner, President of the Omaha Police Officers Association, acknowledge the challenges officers face.

“We have had officers when they first see that exit ramp, they get to that first point, they’re taking that exit.” Sgt. Conner said Wednesday during a press conference with the Omaha Mayor. He referenced an officer who’d left the department after two years because of “recent events.” Sgt. Connor says the new Police Union contract agreement addresses diversity in a major way, giving more job security to officers, creating added layers of support from the city and recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for its employees.

Lt. Barrios affirmed OPD’s commitment to diversity however, and said they’re not necessarily changing the way they approach recruiting, but continuing their transparent, and thorough approach by showing the benefit of police work and being upfront about what recruits can expect.

“They can go work for different companies and they won’t have to deal with a lot of the problems that are going on in this country, but if you really wanna make the change, this is the place to do it.” he stated.

It’s important to also note, diversity in race and age are not the only components that make a good police department or even an effective one. The summarized break down above doesn’t explain the interpersonal experiences, education, socio-economic status or several other categories of diversity that exist. That diversity is intangible and can only be demonstrated in the actions of an officer, many of them seen, but others, often unseen. As Lt. Barrios referenced, “there’s a lot of media attention on officers right now, but we’ve been able to build trust with our community through so many community events.” he added he hopes that trust is also recognized.

Covid-19 also stalled the hiring process and the department will be accepting applications for employment through October 26th. You can click here to apply.

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