Sacramento State officially joined forces Wednesday with the Sacramento Police Department and California Highway Patrol to launch the first program in the nation that promises law enforcement jobs to eligible students who graduate.
The university and law enforcement agencies see the Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars Program as a way to recruit more minority officers and provide firsthand job training for students.
The criminal justice department at California State University, Sacramento, is the largest west of the Mississippi River and has the seventh most diverse student enrollment in the country, according to Shelby Moffatt, director of the new program and a former Sacramento Police Department officer.
The two-year program will begin in the spring with about 25 students, Moffatt said. It is open to students in all majors and includes 10 to 12 workshops a year in leadership, cultural competence, force de-escalation, defensive driving and physical training, among other things.
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Students will complete internships at law enforcement agencies during their final year in the program. Those who qualify for and graduate from the CHP or Sacramento Police Department academies will be guaranteed jobs as long as space is available.
Sacramento police Chief Sam Somers Jr., California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Jonni Fenner, CSUS President Robert Nelsen and other university officials signed documents launching the program in a university ceremony Wednesday morning. Minority students constituted nearly 70 percent of U.S. students last fall at Sacramento State, according to campus data.
“We strive to mirror the community we serve,” Fenner said. “CSUS reflects the diversity we hope will build bridges ... with the communities we serve.”
Law enforcement agencies have faced increasing scrutiny in recent years after high-profile, officer-involved shootings of black men have been documented on video. Nelsen said the new program will attempt to “help de-escalate a lot of what has been happening in law enforcement.”
Somers said the scrutiny has made law enforcement careers less appealing. He said his department has “about 50 percent” fewer job applications right now.
“When you look nationwide at the different law enforcement entities, it is not a job that is appealing – with the amount of scrutiny that comes over every action and decision,” said Somers, who announced his retirement last month amid controversy over the July 11 fatal shooting of Joseph Mann, who was mentally ill and acting erratically with a knife. “The decisions law enforcement has to make are extremely complex.”
“It’s about getting out in the community,” Somers added. “You can be educated, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to do this job. It takes a very special person that really understands what it is, understands it is a calling, understands you have to have thick skin because people are going to criticize what you do.”
Mark Harris, a community activist and founder of the Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, said the program is a good first step but won’t solve problems stemming from what he considers the “militarized” culture of law enforcement. Harris, an attorney, represents low-income families in lawsuits against law enforcement agencies, including Mann’s family for a time.
“Every attempt to try to be more responsive to diversity and community needs is a good thing,” he said.
The problem is not ethnicity as much as cultural, he said, adding that a number of recent complaints against officers involved in shootings nationwide have been leveled against African American and Latino officers.
“It’s a culture of blue,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be re-created.”
The CHP has no problem filling its academy, said Sgt. Norman Vandermeyde, who leads Valley Division recruitment. “We are just trying to get the best qualified applicant through the pipeline and I think this program is going to allow us to do that.”
Vandermeyde would like to see the program picked up by other CSU campuses that will partner with their local CHP offices.
Sacramento State recruiters are reporting that students have applied to the school based on discussions about the new program, according to university officials.
“I’m really excited about it because when you do something unprecedented like this, you really have a chance to change what is happening in America,” Nelsen said.
Applications for the program are due Nov. 30.