POLICE RECRUITS (copy)

New recruits stand and take the oath of the office during the welcoming ceremony for the 62nd Class of the Madison Police Department at the Madison Police Department Training Center in Madison.

I am writing in response to Joan Schilling's June 9, 2019 letter to the editor, titled, “Where’s the Diversity?”

My name is Ed Marshall. On Jan. 1 of this year, I assumed the rank and assignment of lieutenant of training for the Madison Police Department. I am effectively the director of the city’s police academy.

Knowing the class make-up, my first response to the letter was that this is a diverse group of adults who are stepping up to the challenge of serving this unique community.

This class of 50, the largest class in MPD’s history, includes four officers who identify as African American/black or biracial, four who identify as Asian or Middle Eastern, at least three who were adopted as children, and 13 women. We also have officers who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

This class is being taught by training officers who were specifically selected for their expertise and teaching ability, yet themselves are also diverse. My training team of nine includes two women and two male minorities. Their lieutenant is African American (that’s me, if you’re still paying attention), and our captain, to whom I report, is female. Our training team also frequently engages subject matter experts from the department and our community on topics such as cultural competence, emotional intelligence, officer wellness and mental health.

When they graduate, they will be joining the ranks of a department that has historically been lauded and sought out for its efforts at improving its own diversity. The most recent figures to which I am privy break MPD down as:

  • 28 percent female (The national average for police departments is closer to 15 percent per the Bureau of Justice Statistics. MPD officers have maintained an active and strong presence in the Wisconsin Association of Women Police.)
  • 9 percent black/African American
  • 3 percent Asian
  • 6.5 percent Latino
  • 1.8 percent Native American

If you take the time to compare these numbers to the available data on the racial and ethnic make-up of Madison, you will find that MPD is comparable on many levels. That said, we don’t rest on our laurels, and have been looking for ways to recruit women and minorities with greater success.

My second thought was that the writer’s offhanded comment about “how white they look” dismisses the experiences and previous work of these new officers, based purely on the color of their skin.

I hasten to point out that these new officers also bring with them personal and professional experiences, including careers in teaching, living abroad (including Peace Corps service), graduate level studies, service as first responders, volunteerism and social activism, military service, language skills, and significant work in social services and violence reduction. These experiences serve to strengthen their ability to serve our public, and raise the department’s cultural competence as a whole. Many MPD officers continue to serve their communities in various capacities outside of policing.

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Race, especially as it relates to policing, is a major topic of discussion in this country, and Madison is no exception. A police department should make efforts to reflect the diversity, races and ethnicities of the community it serves.

But that’s only half the story.

Race, ethnicity and diversity alone do not translate into cultural awareness, compassion and competence, nor are they mutually exclusive. As Madison begins to feel the effects of some of this tension, as well as the national decline in police recruiting, MPD will strive to continuously improve not only the quality of its service to the public, but also the clarity of our reflection of this diverse community.

Ed Marshall is a lieutenant with the Madison Police Department personnel and training team.

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