By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA – Borough police Chief William C. Sutton told a Jan. 29 community forum on race relations that his department recently hired an Indiana University of Pennsylvania student member of the NAACP to help officers “get a perspective for a lot of the things we’re talking about.”
Among those talking points is the fact that Sutton’s 22-member department employs not a single minority, he acknowledged in a Feb. 6 telephone interview. Sutton added that his department has one female on the force.
Sutton’s most recent part-time hire is Marcia T. Newman, a political science major at IUP, president of the campus chapter of the NAACP, and, now, consultant to the cops.
Her advice: The police department’s lack of diversity invites racial tension, she said.
“The lack of diversity is very telling,” Newman said in a Feb. 5 interview in IUP’s Humanities and Social Sciences building. “There needs to be more of a bridge between the students and police department so we can communicate. With such a small black population on campus, I’m not surprised there are racial tensions.”
Black enrollment at IUP was 11 percent in fall 2014, according to information linked to the university’s website. Total minority enrollment was 17 percent, according to the university’s fall 2014 figures.
Racial tensions at the school erupted in early December when a student identified by others as a white woman posted a racially offensive photo and caption on the social medium Snapchat. A protest at the campus administration building, ongoing demonstrations against racism, and suggestions that racism may be institutional have followed.
More diversity in local police ranks would help, Newman said.
“The department needs to reach out,” she said. “Indiana needs to adapt to the idea of inclusion, because they don’t have a choice. You need minorities when you’re dealing with minorities. It’s nice to see a woman or black person in a job, because it shows that someone is there that’ll understand you.”
Sutton responded in a Feb. 8 email.
“I agree with Ms. Newman,” Sutton wrote. “It would likely be an asset to have more diversity in the police department.”
The department’s absence of minority officers is not due to racial discrimination, he added.
“We have a very difficult time getting any applicants,” Sutton said. “Additionally, hiring opportunities are few and far between. Our application process and hiring practices are in accordance with the civil service regulations and conform to state and federal statutes.”
Police shootings of unarmed black men by white officers have sparked protests in U.S. communities since a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014.
Constance R. Brown, a junior IUP journalism major, said current events color minority perceptions of police in Indiana, Pa.
“What we see on the news makes us think that we can’t go to the police,” Brown said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s important for community officials to be diverse.”
Brown said she has feared law enforcement.
“I shouldn’t feel like this could be my last day here when a police officer pulls me over,” she said. “But I have felt like that. And it’s scary.”
Logan Hullinger, a sophomore journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He can be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.