Toledo Police actively recruiting Latinos for next cadet class
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Oct. 12, 2012: 35-year old Lourdes Rocha always had it in the back of her mind to be a police officer, but she tried several different things before deciding to take a civil service exam to join the Toledo Police Dept.
Ms. Rocha is coming up on her two-year anniversary as a patrol officer on the afternoon shift. But one might think a career as a cop would have been more prominent, because she was raised from age 11 by her older brother Martin, who has spent nearly two decades on the force. Her mother died when she was young.
Ms. Rocha graduated from Notre Dame Academy, then attended college for a year, unsure of what she wanted as a career. She then moved to Texas and volunteered to work with the homeless and troubled youth through church-based non-profit groups. Ms. Rocha even spent a month in India working with orphans.
She later moved back to Toledo and got hired as a flight attendant with Continental Express. Her Texas-based experience fueled her curiosity for travel and to see other locations.
“Then I realized I wanted to finish school,” she recalled.
Ms. Rocha then studied education at the University of Toledo until her junior year. She worked her way through school at UPS.
“After observing in the classroom a couple of times, I realized it wasn’t for me,” she admitted. “My brother made such a difference in people’s lives, working with the schools for quite a few years. I just figured it would be good, I could be a positive role model for other young people.”
Ms. Rocha took the police civil service exam, then started her law enforcement career as a corrections officer at the Lucas County Jail.
“I feel like that prepared for the steps I took for this career,” she said. “I guess the department was already set in my heart. I wanted to work for the Toledo Police Dept. so I felt becoming a corrections officer would prepare me while I was waiting.”
Ms. Rocha went on a journey of career exploration many young people find themselves taking. He has no regrets and admitted her maturity has made her a better police officer.
“Getting older, you realize you know what you want,” she said. “Younger people don’t know what kind of career they want to go into. But people also change, interests change, life circumstances change. For me it’s been a journey—but a learning one, one I wouldn’t trade if I had a choice.”
Ms. Rocha is just one of a handful of Latinas patrolling the streets of Toledo. Including civilian workers, Latinas only make up two percent of the entire police department. But one has earned the rank of deputy chief and another has reached the level of sergeant.
“It never hurts to try it. If you try it and don’t like it, you move on to whatever else you might want to be,” she advised. “You might want to experience whatever goal you’re trying to reach. For me, working for the Toledo Police Department is a career—it’s an honorable career. There are so many aspects to the job, not just one or two things you’re doing. You wear many, many hats. It’s been an awesome, awesome experience.”
While she grew up in a bilingual household, Ms. Rocha admits her Spanish is “not where it should be” in order to help communicate with the Latino immigrant community. You could say she has an educational “bucket list” which includes brushing up on her Spanish as well as finishing her college degree someday—this time in criminal justice.
Dreams may get delayed, but Ms. Rocha would like to see more Latinos try to join the Toledo police force.
“If someone from the Latino community has a set goal, stays out of trouble, has their eye on the prize—anything’s possible,” she said. “No matter what type of social or economic background, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
Those interested in taking the written civil service exam can fill out an interest card that can be found at www.toledopolice.com. Those recruits will be contacted to make formal application in November.
Toledo police spokesman Sgt. Joe Heffernan stated the department is looking for a large applicant pool, especially Latinos. The police force not only needs to offset a large number of retirements, but is seeking to beef up the number of patrol officers to keep the city safe. According to TPD’s 2011 annual report, there were 585 sworn officers—a number that has fallen since then. Its authorized strength is much larger than that.
“That’s the reason we’re trying to get a large number of people for this recruiting class, because we’re going to be hiring a large number of people from this list, especially in the beginning—75 to 80 officers,” explained Sgt. Heffernan. “From there, we’d like to get one, maybe two more classes.”
In the past, the police civil service exam has been conducted at the Seagate Convention Center in downtown Toledo. But recruiters are not sure yet how big the applicant pool will be, so the location has not yet been determined. The test itself is tentatively scheduled Dec. 1.
“The mayor’s made a commitment to get us to where we used to be, or close to where we used to be—somewhere in the 600’s,” said Sgt. Heffernan. “The typical class we normally run through is 30 to 40 officers.”
“The city is always looking for qualified applications, so the more applicants we have to take the test, it’s a bigger pool of applicants to potentially hire,” echoed Det. Mike Koperski, who’s currently serving on the TPD recruitment team.
TPD began laying the groundwork in August for their cadet recruitment efforts, which went into high gear the past two months.
“We’ve found if you go too far out, people lose interest,” said Det. Koperski. “If you get them right before the application process starts, you’re going to have a more captive audience.”
That same annual report showed just 40 Latino police officers within TPD’s ranks, or roughly seven percent of the entire force.
“That is always a goal of ours, to get qualified minority and female applicants,” said Det. Koperski. “Traditionally, you’re always going to have a group of traditional police officers—white males—that are going to apply for the test. But we always try to target specific groups that may not consider this as a career.”
African-American and Latino officers can help defuse volatile situations on the street.
“I worked the central city for a number of years when I was on the street—and sometimes they can relate more to people at calls,” admitted Det. Koperksi. “They can sometimes get more information at calls. So it does help.”
“It’s a commitment from the (police) chief’s office to make sure we have a diversified body of officers that represents the makeup of the city of Toledo,” said Sgt. Heffernan. “It’s important that the citizens of Toledo understand we are a reflection of them. Sometimes we don’t have the interest among the minority groups that we get from the white population, so that’s why we have to focus our recruitment efforts.”
The recruitment team readily admitted bilingual Latino police officers are in short supply at TPD. That runs counterintuitive to a growing Latino population that doesn’t speak English.
“It certainly helps. Anyone who can speak Spanish is a welcome addition, because we have a large group of people where English is not their primary language and they don’t speak it particularly well,” said Det. Koperski. “So it helps us to communicate if we have more people who can speak Spanish on the department.”
“Quite frankly, most of the Latino officers that we do have don’t speak Spanish,” said Sgt. Heffernan. “Most of them are second and third-generation Latinos who may have some Spanish capabilities. But that’s something we’re really struggling with is getting Spanish-speaking officers. It is definitely an attribute and something to be considered in the hiring process.”
The formal application period runs Nov. 3-16 at Fire Station 1, 545 N. Huron St. in downtown Toledo or online at www.toledopolice.com. Applicants will receive study materials when they apply to take the civil service exam. This time, however, the study guide will be emailed to applicants, who for the first time, will be able to apply on-line. However, walkups will be allowed during the application process at fire station #1 in downtown Toledo. Those applicants will receive a printed booklet to study for the exam.
Applicants must not only pass the civil service exam, but an extensive background check, an oral interview, medical and psychological exams, and a physical agility test. But the current annual salary for a trainee is $44,428, a figure which rises to $55,536 after three years as a Toledo police officer. Applicants must be 20-34 years of age to be eligible.