BELOIT — Efforts remain ongoing to recruit more people of color to the Beloit police and fire departments, as both chiefs gave an update to the Police and Fire Commission on Monday.
Commissioner Dennis Murphy requested an update from both departments on their recruiting efforts to make both departments representative of Beloit’s diversity.
In the fire department, Fire Chief Dan Pease said COVID-19 had greatly impacted the department’s Explorer Program that pairs students with department staff to help build an interest in careers in the fire service.
The department also works with Blackhawk Technical College for training that prepares them for initial testing to become a firefighter/paramedic.
The department currently has 56 staff members, 54 of which are male and two of which are female. The department is nearly 93% White, 3.6% Black and 3.4% Hispanic.
“We have a long way to go in the fire department to bring those numbers toward the demographics of our city,” Pease said. “It’s very difficult.”
PFC President Ron Watson, who also works as a professor at Beloit College, said the issue of increasing the number of women and people of color to all institutions is challenging.
“This is a difficulty that we see in academia,” Watson said.
In the police department, Interim Chief Thomas Stigler said the department was “doing OK, but not doing well enough” in terms of reaching its diversity goals.
Of the department’s 92 staff members, 80% of the department is White, 9% Black, 9% Hispanic and 2% Asian.
“We’re proud of our recruiting efforts, but it is not easy,” Stigler said. “It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to find individuals who want to do this very challenging career.”
Over the last five years, the department put an increased emphasis on recruiting women and people of color to Beloit.
That effort is currently led by Patrol Division Capt. Andre Sayles. He reaches out to various colleges both in Illinois and Wisconsin to connect with potential recruits, along with other officers who conduct additional visits to schools to encourage young people to apply for positions in Beloit.
Currently, the police department has two sworn personnel vacancies out of 82 sworn positions.
Sayles told commissioners of recently successful college visits in which he said potential recruits said they would apply for the department’s positions when the next wave of hiring takes place.
“They have been receptive to the City of Beloit and the diversity in our department,” Sayles said.
COVID-19 stalled the department’s explorer program that paired youth with officers to familiarize young people with the department, Sayles added, noting that 2021 would potentially see a restarting of the program once COVID-19 conditions improve in the Rock County area.
In closing, Watson said he was encouraged by the police department’s push to use Beloit’s diversity as a positive asset in recruiting potential staff.
“I am very heartened to hear that we continue to use the diversity of our community as a draw to the city,” Watson said. “We are finally starting to recognize the importance of this.”