Two years ago, then-Police Chief Andy Harvey said building a more culturally diverse department was a top priority. He vowed to create a department that better reflected a city of 19,000 that is one-half African American and Latino.
Two years later, however, and several months after Harvey's resignation, the department's racial makeup hasn't changed.
Palestine's population is 26 percent African-American and 24 percent Latino, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. Currently, only five PPD officers – or less than 14 percent of the force – are African American or Latino.
Moreover, PPD's 37 officers include only two women. Both hold supervisory roles: one as a patrol supervisor, the other in a command position.
Palestine Police interim Chief Mark Harcrow told the Herald-Press Friday he is working to give the city a police department that more accurately mirrors the community it serves.
“Police recruiting is a challenge nationwide, across all law enforcement agencies,” he said. “We must continue to build a relationship with the community, and continue to be the type of department people want to be a part of.”
Harcrow also noted two African-Americans and one female work in code enforcement, which reports directly to the PPD.
Local leaders recently praised the PPD for its efforts in reducing crime. But they also said the department should become more diverse.
“Diversity is a big thing,” District 2 City Councilman Mitchell Jordan told the Herald-Press Friday. “The city is growing and becoming more diverse. City employees and the police department should reflect that.”
Jordan said he has seen Harcrow in the community; he believes the newly appointed interim chief, overall, has done a good job.
“I'd like to see him at the schools more often, specifically recruiting students of color,” Jordan said. “The school could get involved, too. Maybe they could help students study for the police exam, or the academy. They already teach kids how to become nurses, or welders; why not police officers?”
Grizelda Castillo, a planning and zoning board member, agreed.
“It would be wonderful to see something like that as part of an elective curriculum,” Castillo told the Herald-Press. “The police officers have the explorers, but that's after school, and too often conflicts with sports and extra-curricular activities.”
Castillo said she has spoken with Harcrow numerous times and believes he's sincere.
“Once he's seen out in the community more, there will be more trust,” she said. “Our UNIDOS group is planning to speak with him at an upcoming holiday function.”
A Palestine native, Harcrow wants to become more directly involved in local recruiting.
“Officers who live here – have grown up here, are already invested in the community,” he said. “They would be more likely to stay.”
One hurdle Palestine must overcome in police recruiting is salary. Starting wages for a PPD officer are just under $42,000; Tyler, less than an hour away, pays $10,000 more. Larger cities such as Dallas or Forth Worth pay their new officers around $60,000.
Law enforcement agencies compete for talent and experience, Harcrow said. In Palestine, recruits with law enforcement experience get a $5,000 bonus.
Applicants must still pass the state civil service exam. The city has no authority to circumvent that process.
The next Palestine police exam is Jan. 11. Harcrow said he encourages anyone who has considered a career as a police officer to take the test.
For information on the test or becoming a police officer, call Lt. Kerr at (903) 729-0900.