Metro

City officials hope cadet program can revive police diversity

The police cadet program, once a pipeline for Boston youth, could return to a city starved for a varied force

Johnny Clark, 22, and Kevin Jagmohan, 16, walked through Dorchester. Jagmohan aspires to become a Boston police officer.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Johnny Clark, 22, and Kevin Jagmohan, 16, walked through Dorchester. Jagmohan aspires to become a Boston police officer.

Police Commissioner William B. Evans was a scrappy Irish kid from South Boston who at first was not quite sure he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and join the force.

His right-hand man, Superintendent in Chief William Gross — the first African-American to be named to that post — grew up in Dorchester, a neighborhood that did not particularly trust the police, but in the department he saw an opportunity to serve his community.

Then there is Lisa R. Holmes of Roxbury, chief of the Bureau of Professional Development, who broke into the department’s old boys’ network to become the first African-American woman to head the unit.

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All three got their start in the city’s police cadet program, which provided a pipeline for city youth to join the force.

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The initiative ground to a halt in 2009 following tough financial times, but Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Evans are working to revive the program in an effort to increase minority representation on a force that is 60 percent white men.

“[Diversity has] been a big concern of a lot of people in light of what happened in Ferguson,” said Walsh, who has called for, in his proposed budget, $370,000 to go toward resurrecting the cadet program. “It’s important to have a force that reflects the city of Boston.”

Civil service laws that give veterans hiring preference make it difficult for city residents to join the force. The cadet program came to an end following a federal judge’s 2004 decision to lift a 30-year-old consent decree that required the city to hire one minority officer for each white officer. The result was a police department that does not resemble the city.

The Walsh administration recently released a report that revealed the police and fire departments are the least racially diverse major city agencies.

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Of the more than 2,100 sworn personnel within the Boston Police Department, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians make up about 33 percent, according to numbers provided by the police department. Most of the 41 current police recruits are military veterans and are white.

“We want to work to get the department as diverse as we possibly can,” said Evans, noting that people of color make up 53 percent of the city’s population. “The cadet program is a major way to hire city kids. We want someone who has lived here for the last five years. We want them to understand the culture and dynamics of the city.”

Although the number of applicants vying to join the Boston Police Department has dropped dramatically over the years, data obtained by the Globe show that minorities want to be a part of the force.

African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native-Americans made up 53 percent of the 2015 applicant pool, Evans said.

“I know kids who take the test three, four times and have gotten 98s and 99s and still don’t get hired,” Holmes said. “And so at some point they get discouraged.”

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The cadet program was established in 1978 as a way to attract minorities to the force, but it was criticized in the late 1990s for evolving into a patronage system for friends and relatives of mayors, city councilors, and police officers. The program was also accused of failing minorities because most cadets during those years were white.

“It’s a worthwhile program if it’s used properly,” said Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, who was also a cadet in 1983.

Ellison said when he was a cadet, the participants represented a melting pot of young people of different backgrounds from neighborhoods throughout the city, but that eventually changed.

“Certain folks, if they knew the right people, the politicians, they could get the job,” he said. “That wouldn’t benefit those who don’t know someone.”

The police department did not provide information as to how many former cadets are on the force and has said it does not maintain data on the racial makeup of cadets.

While Evans said politics did play a role in the program back then, his focus now is on diversifying the department.

“It’s important we make sure it’s fair and equitable to everybody,” Walsh said. “It has to be a program people have faith and confidence in.”

Evans got his start as a cadet in 1980 working at police headquarters, at the 911 call center, taking reports at the front desk of a police station, getting police cruisers washed, and running the mail. He says the program gave him an inside look into what the department was all about.

“This gave me a unique opportunity to try it out,” Evans said. “I really got interested” in joining the force.

Gross, who had a strong desire to serve his community, became a cadet and served in a number of roles. He worked with officers in the Hackney unit, in 911 operations, and in District B-2 in Roxbury.

“It allowed me to pursue a dream,” said Gross, who was a cadet in 1983. “I was able to learn the ins and outs of what the police did. I had a better opportunity because of the relationships I developed and wisdom I gained from throughout the ranks. All of us cadets were ahead of everyone else.”

Gross stuck with it, and two years later, he took the exam, passed, and made it into the academy.

“For us to be the best police department we can be, it has to be reflective of every community,” Gross said.

As for Holmes, the program gave her a deeper look at the day-to-day operations and eventually sparked her interest in becoming an officer.

“It really gave me a perspective of what policing was all about,” she said. “It’s not just about riding around in blue-and-white cars . . . It was really an in-depth profession with a lot of parts to it to make it work.”

Evans envisions a cadet program that would focus heavily on diversity, targeting 18- to 25-year-olds who have lived in the city for five years — longer than the one to three years that was required under the previous cadet program. The department’s Recruit Investigation Unit would oversee the program. Aspiring cadets would also have to go to a police station to take an exam and later return for interviews. Evans said he would like to hire 50 cadets.

The cadets would earn one-eighth of a patrolman’s salary and receive benefits and vacation days. They would rotate to different units within the department every six months.

”There’s a lot of white police officers. [People in my neighborhood would] probably feel comfortable talking to someone their color. I grew up in the same city as them,” said Kevin Jagmohan, a Guyanese-American teenager who aspires to become a Boston police officer.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
”There’s a lot of white police officers. [People in my neighborhood would] probably feel comfortable talking to someone their color. I grew up in the same city as them,” said Kevin Jagmohan, a Guyanese-American teenager who aspires to become a Boston police officer.

The program’s return would mean residents such as Kevin Jagmohan, who aspires to become a Boston police officer, would have a real shot at pursuing his dream.

The 16-year-old Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers student has grown accustomed to the pop-pop of gunshots in Dorchester, where he lives. He said someone was recently gunned down in front of his home on Tebroc Street.

The Guyanese-American teenager says he believes his community would benefit from having someone who resembles them and knows the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of white police officers. [People in my neighborhood would] probably feel comfortable talking to someone their color,” Jagmohan said. “I grew up in the same city as them.”

Community leaders welcome the program’s return.

The program is the pathway that young people from those communities need, said former state representative Marie St. Fleur, who now heads the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children.

“I think they want to serve their communities,” she said. “They want to know they can make a difference.”

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.