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Numbers, diversity fall short in new police-fire recruit class

February 5, 2019

The Fort Wayne Police Department welcomed 24 recruits to the city’s new Public Safety Academy class Monday, while the Fort Wayne Fire Department brought in 11.

Two more fire recruits are from Huntington’s city fire department.

During a brief ceremony at the academy’s auditorium, Mayor Tom Henry told the recruits they were among the best of the best : but they still had a long way to go to enter their chosen professions.

“You were chosen to be in those seats. Not everyone who wants to be a police officer or a firefighter gets to sit in those seats,” Henry said. 

“There will be times you want to quit, but I want to tell you that you can make it. You will need to reach down deep, ... because that is the kind of individual we need.”

The new class of police recruits, the 64th, counts women and minorities as almost 30 percent of its members. Six members of the fire class, the 91st, are women, multiracial or members of minorities.

Recruiting more diverse candidates to fill public safety positions has been a goal of both the police and fire service, Police Chief Steve Reed said after the ceremony. But more needs to be done, he said.

“I wish we had more (minorities). I wish we had more diversity, because I wish we reflected our community more,” Reed said. “Our community is diverse.”

Three women are among the police recruits, and two are among the fire recruits. All are white, except one, who is reported as being of more than one race.

Reed said police use social media, job fairs and contacts through Fort Wayne United to recruit diverse candidates. Fort Wayne United is a city program created to enhance opportunities for black men and boys in Fort Wayne.

“Unfortunately, our recruitment is down,” Reed said. “We wanted 30, but we were only able to get 24.”

Fort Wayne Fire Chief Eric Lahey said the fire service was holding its own but did have a “slight dip” in the number of recruits. Last year, 19 fire recruits graduated, according to Journal Gazette archives. 

Iric Headley, Fort Wayne United coordinator, said city officials and his organization have made “a genuine attempt “to focus on recruiting minorities.”

“We’ve been intentional about passing the word to organizations that feel they might have people who would benefit,” including churches and youth organizations, he said.

Both chiefs have spoken at Fort Wayne United events in the past year, Headley said. But he said, the group cannot control what career choice individuals make.

“We can put it out there and that is what we have done and are continuing to do, and that’s what we are proud of,” he said.    

Recruit Thuya Aung, 21, son of Than Aung and Mu Mu Aye of Fort Wayne, said he wants to join the police force as a way of serving the community where he grew up. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand after his parents fled oppression in Myanmar, formerly Burma, Aung said he came to Fort Wayne when he was 3.

He graduated from North Side High School and has an associate degree in paramedic science from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where he already has worked as an emergency medical technician and a  paramedic.

“I just wanted a field where I could help people and help the community,” said Aung, who speaks Burmese as well as English.

“The big need would be better relationships with the community and government. There’s definitely a language barrier, but I think there’s much more distrust of government because of where we’re from,” he said.

Reed, the police chief, said recruits undergo an application process, a written test, a fitness test and psychological testing before they are accepted to the academy. 

Police recruits spend 21 weeks training. Fire recruits complete 20 weeks before graduating. Last year, 21 police recruits graduated from the academy.

rsalter@jg.net

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