TUPELO – Over the past seven years, the number of minority and female officers in the Tupelo Police Department has declined. And that is with a concerted effort by the department to hire more in both demographics.

“TPD works hand in hand with the city human resources department to find the best available candidates to become police officers,” said Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre. “A key component of that effort is the intentional recruiting of applicants from Historically Black Colleges.

“We strive to have an efficient and transparent hiring process. We also recognize that competition for qualified applicants is intense in law enforcement.”

In 2011, females made up 12.6 percent of the 111 full-time certified officers in the department. Females account for 9.5 percent of the 105-person force today. During the same timeframe, the percentage of black officers dropped from 15.3 percent to 13.3 percent. The number of Hispanic officers remained about the same, around 2 percent.

When compared with the demographic makeup of the city as a whole, the department’s numbers are askew. Women make up 53 percent of Tupelo’s population, according to the latest census data. The same 2010 survey showed the city was about 37 percent black and 3.5 percent Hispanic.

“We rank the candidates and usually take the Top 10 and bring them in for interviews,” Aguirre said. “If there are any women (or minorities) in that pool, we will consider them.”

The department could address the issue this year by hiring more black and female officers. According to TPD spokesman Capt. Chuck McDougald, the department is slotted for 114 certified officers. Because of the danger and stress of the job, turnover can be high.

“Hiring and retention rates are a challenge that all agencies are facing,” Aguirre said. “In the end we want the best candidates for our citizens and a police force that is representative of the citizens we serve.”

There are currently nine slots open for full-time officers.

While the number of minorities and females are low, they fill some key supervisory roles. Aguirre is one of two Hispanic officers. Maj. Anthony Hill is the highest ranking black officer overseeing the departments special operations. He is joined by Sgt. James King and Robert Harper, who was promoted to sergeant earlier this year.

Among females, Lt. Lynette Sandlin is second in command over the detectives division. The department’s only two black females both have ranks. Lt. Katarsha White is the community oriented policing coordinator. Sgt. Tiffany Gilleylen helps oversee a patrol shift. The lone Hispanic female is Sgt. Chamila Brown.

In recent years, TPD has maintained two black detectives. That ended with the sudden death of Steven Wade in late March. In addition to being a crime scene expert, Wade handled the bulk of the city’s juvenile cases. Those cases have been shifted to the other black detective, L’Brien Miller.

“He is doing a great job,” Aguirre said. “He is active in his church and has a good rapport with youth.

“You’ve got to be able to get on their level and be able to talk their language. We are really happy to have him take over.”

Officials are still looking to fill the open detective slot. There is currently one black detective and one female detective (Sandlin). In order to be a detective, the officer must have at least five years in law enforcement – at least three of those with TPD – and no write-ups on their record.

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