Local police departments struggle with minority recruitment and retention

By Gus Bode

Of 134 full and part-time police officers in local law enforcement agencies, 16 officers are minorities; a fact, officials say they are trying to change.

Local law enforcement officials in Carbondale, Murphysboro and at SIUC as well as the Jackson County Sherrif’s Office say location and benefits have contributed to their inability to recruit and retain minority police officers.

Carbondale Police Chief Steve Odum, said his department has problems with recruiting and retaining minority officers, but actively seeks to employ minorities.


“As soon as we get minority applicants on our list and as soon as we have an opening they’re always the first people we look at,” Odum said.

Of the 60 police officers in the Carbondale Police Department, five are black, and one is Hispanic.

According to the 2000 Census, blacks make up 23 percent of the total population in Carbondale and Hispanics comprise 3 percent. Within the department, blacks make up 8 percent of the force and Hispanics 2 percent.

Odum said despite aggressive recruiting in Chicago, Champaign, Bloomington, Jacksonville and several other places, Carbondale’s location makes it a challenge to attract minority applicants.

“We have an active and pretty progressive recruiting program,” Odum said. “We try to send recruiting officers to places and attract minority applicants, but just like every department, to get qualified people who want to come here is just a real challenge.”

The Murphysboro Police Department, which employs two black officers and one Hispanic officer, faces a similar dilemma.

Police Chief Jeff Bock said the department has a hard time attracting minority applicants because of starting salaries, location and the required employment assessment. When the last test was held four years ago, there were only four applicants in the pool and none of them were minorities, Bock said.


In Murphysboro, blacks make up nearly 16 percent and Hispanics about 3 percent of the population. With 19 officers employed in the department, blacks represent 10 percent of the force and Hispanics make up 5 percent.

Testing is usually held every two years, but Bock said one wasn’t administered last year because there were not any openings. Bock said the department has no control over testing, which is conducted by the Police and Fire Commission, and he does not know if one would be held this year but he would like the chance to recruit minorities at the next opportunity.

“When they end up testing again, I would like to be able to go out and attempt to recruit,” Bock said. “But it’s really hard to sell, with the money we’re able to pay, when you have all these other departments out here that pay a whole lot more. It’s hard to even get people to come take the test.”

The three minority officers in the department are part-time and auxiliary officers. An auxiliary officer generally supplements regular officers and handles crowd control.

SIUC Police Director Todd Sigler said he also thinks his department could improve its efforts to recruit minority officers.

“I’m anxious to see our efforts improve,” Sigler said. “We want to be as representative of the student body and community, with regard to race and sexual orientation, as we can.”

Of the 35 officers in the SIUC Police Department, five are black and one is Asian.

The department recently worked with SIUC Affirmative Action, which all new hires must go through, to place an advertisement for an officer position.

Currently, blacks represent 14 percent of the SIUC police force and Asians two percent. There are no Hispanics employed in the department.

Like Carbondale, SIUC and Murphysboro, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department has similar statistics.

In Jackson County blacks make up 13 percent of the population, Hispanics 2 percent and Asians 3 percent.

However, the sheriff’s department employs just one black officer of 20 officers and one black jail attendant out of the 32 attendants.

“We make an attempt to hire minority people when we can,” Tom Busch, administrative assistant, said. “Our basic concept is to have a workforce that reflects the community that that workforce works in.”

Busch said, like other departments, the sheriff’s department loses a lot of minority officers to state agencies where pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement are better.

“That’s the nature of the beast,” Busch said. “We’d like to have more minority members on the department. It’s a consistent challenge.”

The starting salary with the Carbondale Police Department is roughly $33,363 a year. In Murphysboro, a first year police officer earns $22,660 annually and a beginning officer for the SIUC Police makes about $38, 979 per year.

Starting salary for a state trooper with the Illinois State Police is $42,500 year.

“We become a training ground for them, which is good for the individual, for them to be able to move up, but it’s a real challenge for us.” Odum said.

“For our size agency and where we’re at, we are very competitive on our pay and benefits. It’s just that we can’t, and probably never will be able to, compete with the state agencies.”

Reporter Ashley Richardson can be reached at [email protected]