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Boston police cadet program draws diverse pool of applicants

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When Boston's mayor and police commissioner revived the city's defunct police cadet program, the goal was to create a wider hiring pool to eventually boost diversity within the mostly white, mostly male Police Department.

So far, the initiative — to get more women and people of color into the cadet program and eventually onto the force — appears to be working.

Of 351 applicants who took the police cadet program exam in November, more than 60 percent are minorities, according to the Boston Police Department.

The program, which provides paid training for youth interested in a career in law enforcement, provides a way around civil service laws that give hiring preference to veterans and has made it difficult to diversify the department which is 60 percent white men.

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"Our goal is to get those residents who went to high school in the city and grew up in the city," said Police Commissioner William B. Evans.

Of all the cadet applicants who took the test on Nov. 14, 36 percent were white, 34 percent were black, and 24 percent were Hispanic.

"I feel good about those numbers," said Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project RIGHT, a Grove Hall antiviolence organization. "I'm beginning to have a lot more confidence that the city is going to change from its racist past to a bright future."

But the number of applicants for other minority groups was less successful — 2 percent of applicants were Asian; 1 percent were Cape Verdean; and 1 percent were American Indian — and civic leaders say city officials should expand outreach to those groups.

"Obviously we'd like to see more Cape Verdeans and Asians and maybe we can increase our efforts in those areas," said Emmett Folgert, who runs the Dorchester Youth Collaborative.

Cadet brochures were available in English only, but police spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy said newspaper ads and other forms of outreach were done in multiple languages.

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Most applicants reported learning about the program through the department's social media efforts.

The cadet program was first launched in 1978 and aimed at attracting minorities to the Police Department but it was dismantled in 2009 following hard financial times.

Minority groups had argued the program failed because most of the cadets were white — in the late 1990s the program had become patronage jobs for friends and relatives of police officers and city officials, those groups said.

The Police Department was unable to provide data on how many of the current applicants are relatives of officers. A spokesman said that information is not required as part of the application process.

But Evans and Mayor Martin J. Walsh vowed that patronage would not be an issue.

Walsh said his administration will continue to expand opportunities in city government to all young people.

"Recruiting and cultivating diverse talent in our Police Department is one of our top priorities to create stronger communities and build pipelines to success for our young people," Walsh said in a statement Tuesday.

During last year's budget season, Walsh directed $370,000 toward reinstating the program.

"They recognized they have a problem which is good," said Father Richard "Doc" Conway, of the city's decision to fund the program. "We're a majority-minority city and that's not being reflected [in the department]."

Evans has said he wants to hire 50 cadets who would earn one-eighth of a patrolman's salary, and receive benefits and vacation days. Cadets would work in different units within the department every six months.

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All the applicants who took the exam passed and next will undergo background checks. A list of eligible candidates will be submitted to Evans. The cadets are expected to begin in late spring.

Evans said he expected at least 800 applicants but the department only saw 525 applicants. Of those, about 33 percent did not show up for the exam.

Evans said the drop-off could have been the result of the requirements of the program, which call for candidates to be between the ages of 18 and 24 years old and a resident of the city for at least five years.

The neighborhood with the most applicants was Dorchester, with 37 percent of applicants, followed by Hyde Park, West Roxbury, and Roslindale.

"This is what the cadet program is designed to do — get kids from the city," said Conway. "It's a start."

Newly-elected City Council President Michelle Wu said she is looking forward to seeing which candidates are selected.

"The council has been very supportive to bringing back the cadet program, creating pathways for young people to get on the police force and making sure it's connected to and represents the community," Wu said. "Judging from a diversity lens, I'm glad to see people from different backgrounds are well represented."


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

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