DES MOINES, Iowa — The racial and socioeconomic factors in Ferguson, Missouri make it hard to draw any parallels to Des Moines, but the situation raises questions about the make-up of a police force and the citizens they serve.
Watching the situation in Ferguson unfold from Des Moines, retired police officer Mike Gonzalez spent his 30 career working as a liaison between minority groups and the police department.
“It built that trust that they could trust the police,” said Gonzalez.
Through a Hispanic outreach program, Gonzalez and his brother Joe became fixtures among the Spanish speaking community.
“If there is an incident, through the community leaders we can tell them and keep them in the loop as to what’s going on and stop rumors,” Gonzalez told Channel 13 News.
Department leaders are proud of community policing, but they admit, the make-up of the force doesn’t parallel Des Moines’ diversity.
“Our percentage is something we’ve been aware of and have been disappointed with. We haven’t been able to recruit a more diverse group to come work here,” said Sgt. Jason Halifax, the public information officer for the Des Moines Police Department.
In Des Moines, Hispanics make up 12% of the population and African Americans make up 10% percent. The police force doesn’t quite match.
“We’re at 89% white, 3% African American, 3% percent Hispanic, and 3% percent Asian,” said Halifax.
Sergeant Halifax says there’s an effort to recruit more racial minorities by promoting law enforcement as a career in local schools and holding events in minority communities to find qualified applicants.
However, law enforcement can be a tough sell.
“Part of the challenge is the private work sector. They want to be as diverse as we do. They may be able to offer you a better salary, we’re going to put you on weekends and holidays,” Halifax told Channel 13 News.