Since July 1, the University of Wisconsin Police Department has been moving its recruiting efforts in a rare, new direction.
Under the leadership of Chief Kristen Roman, UWPD has created a first-of-its-kind Diversity and Inclusion officer to head up recruitment for the Department.
Dr. Louis Macias was named Executive Director of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion for UWPD and is setting out to change not only the amount of diversity on the force in both the near and distant future, but also making sure UWPD is able to retain the people of color they are able to acquire.
Macias, who has a lot of experience in working with first generation college student advisement and was Director of Development at UW Law School for two years, was one of the founding members of the Police Advisory Board.
Macias will now be tasked with bringing people into the department who might not normally apply and identify the skills that new officers will need to possess in modern policing.
It is perhaps a tall order for someone who did not come up through the ranks of the police department, but Macias brings a fresh perspective for precisely that reason. Macias’ position is in the support services side of the UWPD and he has one Sergeant and two HR assistants reporting to him.
“My career has been entirely in education but I’ve really been drawn by underrepresented communities and students who were like me,” Macias told Madison365. “I was one of the founding members of the police advisory committee which was designed to get people together and lift the blinds a little bit. And I was just fascinated. Then I learned more intimately about the recruitment of officers.”
Macias knows his reasons for being enamored with the police department or recruiting may sound cliche or corny. One of those “I wanted to be a cop when I was a kid” kind of things many people relate to. But in all seriousness, the types of incidents we see today did inspire Macias to dream of what being an officer is.
“I work on campus and my wife works on campus,” he explains. “And if someone comes in and starts shooting, most of us are going to run the other way. But there’s this group of people who are going to run in. I think there’s an incredible honor in that. The idea that I get to be part of that and weave efforts to bring in people is something I take a lot of pride in.”
But policing, for the most part, doesn’t entail those big movie moments or how it looked on the news. Which is the biggest piece of information would-be recruits need to know. Taking time to get to know the community, showing up at events and forums to talk to people, understanding mental health issues, understanding how to reach youth and have empathy — those are the true staples of the job. Yet finding the people with those skills has been a challenge. It couples poorly with the public perception of police after all of the shootings of unarmed black teenagers and all of the very public instances of awful police work that have transpired nationally.
Chief Roman acknowledges that those things are awful and that police departments as a whole owe it to the community to admit it when there’s mistakes and take responsibility for what have been some monumental and fatal errors.
But after those acknowledgments, we’re still in the same place. Police still exist. The public still exists. So how can we better co-exist and create a force that is representative of that?
“Some of it is just about recognizing that it starts with the need to be talking,” Chief Roman told Madison365. “Just acknowledging that we’re here for a reason. We can’t just talk about it. We have to do some hard work. But any relationship can’t be one sided.”
Chief Roman says that people need to better understand what the role of police is and hopes that by building a more diverse police force, UWPD will be able to help build a healthier community. The thing we can’t do, according to Chief Roman, is stay stuck where we are now with public mistrust and police not representing the diversity that is in the community
When Chief Roman took over UWPD three years ago during a time of great tension in the city, she sat in police advisory meetings and began to think about what has been happening in the business community. Businesses are committing lots of resources to Diversity and Inclusion in order to find the best people. Most have executives whose sole purpose is finding diversity. What if UWPD had such a person?
That’s where Macias came in. Chief Roman respected his vision and honesty, and wanted to create a unique position through which to recruit. Chief Roman did recruiting herself when she was part of the Madison Police Department and so had ideas of what it might look like.
The truth is that all over the country police departments are having trouble with recruitment. Bad press and bad vibes have permeated a lot of communities, especially communities of color. Improving the vibes starts with having people out on the street representative of the communities they’re serving. And UWPD is a busy, busy force out on the street!
The area along the isthmus and campus is a lively, active, rowdy area, as Madisonians know well. UWPD historically responds to all kinds of situations around the campus area but is far from being just a campus security force.
Besides, UWPD does more than just respond. Policing is different than just showing up to a 911 call.
“We’re not exclusively call driven,” Chief Roman said. “We get to go into problem solving, being proactive. There’s more of an opportunity for community policing, which is more than just being reactive.”
What Chief Roman means is that the demographic UWPD most often interacts with is in a different stage of life development than many of the people MPD interacts with. When she was at MPD, Roman noticed that they dealt with people who, for the most part, were full-fledged in whatever they were doing. Criminals were hardened. People experiencing mental health episodes had gone long periods without proper care. And the calls themselves were a response to incidents that either had already transpired or were concluding.
For Chief Roman, the impact police interventions had were not as powerful as the subjects she came into contact with as they have been since she’s been chief at UWPD. Because UWPD deals with younger people, by and large, and lots of late-teens/early twenties types, she feels that the impact an officer is able to have is significantly more powerful.
UWPD spends a lot of time helping college youth who are experiencing mental health issues or youth who might be teetering towards the wrong direction, but still have room to turn things around.
In this era, policing has required more skills than ever in terms of empathy, interpersonal skills, social IQ, attention to detail. Those are the qualities Chief Roman is looking for in officers and those are the things new officers will be expected to do.
It was late afternoon at the offices of UWPD when Madison365 sat down to talk about Macias, diversity, recruitment, policing issues. The shadow of Camp Randall darkened the entire street. Soon enough there would be 85,000 people filling that stadium. UWPD is going to be tasked with maintaining order, but also maintaining a friendly face for the thousands of people who will come into contact with them for a variety of reasons.
Later, there might be drunk people downtown or on the street. UWPD will be there to make sure everyone gets home safely and receives quality help if they need it. Streets will be patrolled, data will be analyzed, the widest possible spectrum of interactions will take place. Very few people who work as police officers in the Madison area are as busy as officers in the UWPD. It’s literally where all the action is.
Macias will be watching as well. He’ll look at everything that’s happening and craft ways to continue building a force reflective of the community. And, somewhere along the way, he’ll hope these changes stick so that the department and the public aren’t stuck in how they view one another.