Legislation aims to improve diversity in local law enforcement

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — State lawmakers are hoping to improve local law enforcement diversity by introducing legislation that would make the career more accessible for underrepresented groups.

Senate Bill 501 and 502 were introduced by Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids).

According to Brinks, the legislation “would establish statewide matching funds for local government scholarships aimed at increasing access to law enforcement career opportunities for women, minorities and other underrepresented groups.”

After consulting with local law enforcement leaders, Brinks drafted the bill in hopes of alleviating some of the financial burden facing underrepresented, quality candidates.

“When we have police forces that really reflect the makeup of the communities that they serve, we are better served as a result,” Brinks said.

Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young was excited to learn about this legislation.

“It’s an incredibly challenging time to recruit diversity,” LaJoye-Young said.

As the county’s first female sheriff, LaJoye-Young is always for ways to bolster diversity on the force and in the law enforcement field overall.

“If a police department is not representative from the community they serve, they tend to get more detached from that community they serve,” LaJoye-Young said. “We have to really work hard to make sure that our law enforcement agencies are for the community and from the community.”

If passed, the bill would apply to law enforcement agencies serving a population of 80,000 or more, including the Kent County Sheriff’s Office and the Grand Rapids Police Department.

However, smaller agencies wouldn’t get a dime.

A technicality Wyoming Public Safety Chief Kimberly Koster was disappointed to learn.

Koster told News 8 even though their population falls shy of 80,000, they too struggle to recruit diverse officers.

It’s Brinks hope to one day provide similar funding to all agencies across the state, regardless of size.

“That’s something that we do in a lot of legislation, to try and give things a try initially,” Brinks said.

“Certainly, there’s no magic number there, I think we all benefit from having a diverse safety force.”

Currently, Brink’s bill only has support from fellow Democrats, which could prove problematic in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Grand Rapids Police Department sent News 8 the following statement in response to the proposed bill:

“Our goal at Grand Rapids is to diversify our agency to reflect the community we serve. Any legislation that aims to support, or financially boost, our current efforts toward this goal – we are in favor of. We recognize there are current financial barriers for most to enter the field of law enforcement (MCOLES requires a college degree to enter an academy), that may prevent an otherwise quality candidate from being an officer.

“We are proud to be a leader in Michigan for our recruitment efforts to include a sponsorship program, practice hiring tests, community open houses to allow for one-on-one recruiter time, and a women’s hiring workshop, a first ever West Michigan “for women, by women” highlighting the opportunity, necessity, and benefits of having women in law enforcement.”

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