This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: In 2020, nine percent of newly hired officers self-reported as non-white. In 2021, 12 percent of newly hired officers self-reported as non-white.
SIOUX FALL, S.D. (KELO) – Two years ago, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a nationwide conversation about diversity in police departments.
That summer, we talked with the Sioux Falls department about their own diversity goals. Since then, a new chief has taken over.
Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum says bringing in more diversity to the department is not easy to do in just two years’ time.
“I think it’s a continued focus of ours, but the reality is that this is a long game approach and not a short game approach,” Thum said. “Each community throughout the country has their own distinct makeup and finding people to represent from those communities is not always an easy answer topic.”
Minority numbers have fluctuated within the department since 2020. Two years ago, nine percent of the newly hired officers in Sioux Falls self-reported as non-white. In 2021, it was 12 percent.
Now, department-wide, 10 percent of all officers in Sioux Falls self-reported as non-white. When it comes to gender, currently women make up 12.5 percent of the department.
“If the people who we serve see that they’re represented within that department, then that’s something that builds trust and builds understanding,” Thum said. “However, we can’t fully look at that as a solution for everything because we’ve seen some of the most diverse police departments in the country struggle with issues the past couple years as well. Diversity within your department is not going to make everything go as smoothly or easy as possible. It’s just a component of it.”
Thum says getting more diverse officers starts with broadening the pool the department recruits from. However, he says interest in becoming a police officer has lessened nationwide since the Ferguson police shooting in 2014.
“If you walk in now in that education setting and you say, ‘hey who wants to be a police officer, particular, who wants to be a street cop,’ there’s not a lot of interest in that,” Thum said. “There’s a lot of interest in maybe federal agencies, parole, probation, things that don’t necessarily require the duties of a uniform cop.”
Finding those new recruits begins with building a strong community bond.
For instance, the nonprofit Promising Futures is pairing police officers with 20 Whittier Middle School students for a 6-month training program in martial arts.
“We call it Cops and Kids, it’s an opportunity to bring members of law enforcement together with middle school kids as a positive interaction,” said Promising Futures founder Steve Hildebrand
The Cops and Kids program is so popular it now has a waiting list.
“You know, we have our school resource officers that are already in the schools building those types of relationships,” Thum said. “But I think it comes on a more personal level where we’re reaching out with kids and bonding through either sports or other interactions where we begin to see each other just as human beings.”
The police department seems to be doing well with new hires. Thum says there are 280 officers in the department and only four openings.
“At the end of the day, we can look at different hiring practices, and we still have HR procedures and HR ways that we have to hire. We really have to work on increasing our pool and that is how we’ll find diversity,” Thum said.
Community outreach is key in finding more diverse people to join the Sioux Falls Police Department.
“We just need to make sure that we’re reaching out broadly to the entire public,” Thum said. “And regardless of the race of the officers, that they’re doing the necessary work to build trust and build understanding. And, again, that’s where we kind of get that movement where people recognize that they could be part of this department too.”
Last year, the police department saw 411 applications come in for new officers. So far this year, they’ve had 87 applicants.