By: Carmen Russo
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell answered questions about diversity in the State Police Training Academy after the academy’s commencement ceremony Friday. This year’s graduating class originally had 30 percent minority representation, but seven of the eight people making up that percentage dropped out from the training program.
These eight were among 24 other recruits who dropped out due to the physical challenge, according to Colonel O’Donnell.
“There are two things you can do: Say ‘that’s your problem, you didn’t pass [the training],’” O’Donnell told reporters. “The second piece is how do we fix that?”
The State Police turned to community leaders for help recruiting and preparing minority groups for the training academy, and the State Police Diversity Academy was developed. The new academy is a six-week training program designed to give younger people from minority groups a taste of the physical and academic expectations at the training academy. 32 minorities and women graduated from the Diversity Academy Saturday, and Colonel O’Donnell hopes that they are now better prepared to eventually become state police officers.
Colonel O’Donnell also wants to build stronger relationships between people in minority communities and state police officers. To start, O’Donnell invited Providence community leader Kobi Dennis and his students from Princes 2 Kings, a youth mentorship program targeting inner-city children of color, to attend the training academy graduation ceremony.
“Most people don’t really realize what we do, so it’s our responsibility to get in the community,” O’Donnell said after the graduation ceremony. “There’s a perception of what we do that I wouldn’t say is bad, but it’s not understood.”
Helping the younger generation of minorities recognize their own police officers and feel comfortable around them is one of the first steps the State Police can take towards diversifying its ranks, according to O’Donnell.