Community and Cops Talk About Stigmas, the Police Exam and How to Build a Relationship

By: Miya Jones
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Community and Cops Talk About Stigmas, the Police Exam and How to Build a Relationship

One omnipresent topic that has been blowing up the news since the murder of Michael Brown is police brutality. At one point, it seemed as though every day reporters covered the same story with a different name of an unarmed Black person who was killed by a cop.

The mistreatment of Black and brown bodies by cops, dates back to the creation of the police force and has created a “you” versus “them” mentality.

Minority Millennials, the Urban League of Long Island and the Suffolk County Police gathered community members for a sit-down. They talked about how to break through the negative stigmas surrounding cops and how taking the police exam can increase diversity, diminish racism within police departments and offer opportunities for minorities.

Community and Cops Talk About Stigmas, the Police Exam and How to Build a Relationship
(left to right) Thomas Beverly, Sam Law, Retha Fernandez, Andrew Ayodeji

“When our kids are at career fairs, the police officers come and our children are wide-eyed and loving the police officers, so when does that change?” asked Retha Fernandez who serves as the project director for the State of Black Long Island Equity Council for the Urban League of Long Island. “We have a great opportunity to make sure that feeling doesn’t change.”

The opportunity Fernandez was referring to was the chance to connect with officers and increase diversity in the police force.

“My family is extremely West Indian, so I’m not even supposed to be on the force right now,” joked Officer Apryl Hargrove, who has been on the job for eight years. “I should be in someone’s hospital, or a teacher, so I had to overcome the stigma within my own family to be here, but my family is so proud.”

In the African-American community, assumptions are made about cops due to a long history of police brutality and inequality within the justice system. Fernandez said that she had negative experiences with the police, but at the same time, painting cops with a broad brush can hurt more than help the community.

“Yes, we have bad interactions with the police, but we have bad interactions with lawyers and doctors and bankers,” said Fernandez. “Do we say don’t be a lawyer because we had a bad interaction?”

Several agreed that there are benefits to becoming a cop and that certain narratives need to at least be challenged, so that minorities do not miss out on a potential opportunity to improve their life.

“I’m from Wyandanch, so everyone knows in this community the drug dealers are basically glorified more than people who have careers,” said panelist and Minority Millennial member Thomas Beverly. “Suffolk County cops are the highest paid cops in America.”

According to the Empire Center for Public Policy think tank, a Suffolk County cop’s average pay was $149,242 and in Nassau County it was $156,632 in 2014.

One resident said despite her brother being shot by cops, she still believes that taking the police exam and joining the force could be a good opportunity to do things differently.

“You gotta get inside,” said Lawyer and former Parole Officer Alonzo Jacobs. “You can stop the process. You can be the person that says, ‘No that’s not gonna happen over here.'”

Some attendees did voice concerns about how the exam is conducted. An attendee said that since the 1980’s, he knew plenty of people from Wyandanch who scored 95 or higher on the exam and weren’t called back. Jacobs also said oftentimes in the psychological portion of the test, Black people fail because the test is subjective.

Officer Hargrove acknowledged this stating there were issues that arose when she took the test. She said knowledge is power, in that, people often take the test and once they are denied they don’t know they have a chance to do everything, except for the polygraph test, twice. Hargrove encourages people who take the test and don’t hear back to call the Suffolk County Civil Service every six months or go to their office. To combat the bias of the psychological exam, she said making connections with people in the department who could speak to her character helped her.

Another audience member also asked how does one make sure a person, who passes the test and becomes a cop, doesn’t blindly follow orders that are wrong in order to protect the “brotherhood.”

Many agreed that it boils down to compassion and empathy. Second generation Officer Jordan Michael, who has been on the police force since he was 21, said he believes the best kind of cop, who can stand up for what’s right despite the pressure to conform, is a compassionate and cultured one.

The application to take the police exam has been extended to April 17 and you can apply here. If you miss this test, the next exam will be scheduled for June 15.

Miya Jones

Miya Jones

Miya Jones is a Long Island native and the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Shades of Long Island. She's been a journalist since the age of 17 and is a diversity advocate. Follow Miya on Instagram and Twitter: @miyajones1996 and on Facebook as Miya Jones.

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