BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Six new police recruits met with the media Wednesday in the city’s ongoing effort to show it is working to make the police force as diverse as the citizens it is sworn to protect and serve.
The recruits took a break from classes at the Police Department Training Academy on Newfield Avenue to discuss their first weeks on the job and how they think their class shows the diversity that will one day advance all the way to the top ranks.
Of the 29 recruits in this class there are: 27 Bridgeport residents, eight women, 13 Hispanics, nine African-Americans, two officers of mixed race and one Asian officer, said Av Harris, the city’s director of communication. Only five recruits are white.
“Having diversity in the police department is going to help us and help our community,” said recruit Luis Ortiz, a Bridgeport native whose first language is Spanish. “You can relate to somebody more when you have something in common.”
Asked how they believed the typical resident perceives Bridgeport police officers, recruit Kamar Gidden said it all depends on the situation. Gidden, a Bridgeport resident who was once robbed at gunpoint, said his experience as a victim was as positive as could be.
“The detectives helped me out 110 percent,” he said. “With different situations come different outcomes.”
“You can make an arrest with respect,” Ortiz added.
Chealsey Lancia, a recruit who is also earning her bachelor’s degree in social work, said she hopes to give residents a sense of security by going the extra mile and focusing on children’s misperceptions of police as “the bad guy.”
“We need to get to the kids at a young age that we are there to protect them,” she said.
Ovelize Elana agreed, adding she may need to look at her police work in a similar way to her work as a Marine sergeant in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan we had to convince the locals we were there for them,” said Elana, whose father has been a city police officer for nearly 20 years. “We have to convince citizens we are here for you.”
Putting together a more diverse police force will go a long way to that goal, Gidden said.
“Bridgeport is a melting pot,” he said. “You want your Bridgeport police to embody that.”
Mayor Joseph Ganim, who stopped by the academy Wednesday, reminded the recruits that he had appointed Wilbur Chapman, the city’s first African-American police chief, as his public safety adviser. He also recently swore in new chief AJ Perez, the first Cuban-American to fill the roll.
“I think that goes a long way to setting the tone,” Ganim said.
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