Help Wanted: Akron Cops

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You'd think the proliferation of Crime Scene Investigator television shows alone would cause a spike in people looking to join the police. But Akron police Chief Mike Matulavich says that isn't happening.

Mike Matulavich: When you think about police departments from California to Boston to New York having a difficult time. I just think with all the other jobs available in computers and technology today, people just think about as a cop... let's face it, you have to work holidays, Christmas some times. Young officers may go the evening shifts. This is a turn-off to a lot of people.

To help attract applicants, the city hired Hitchcock Flemings and Associates, an ad agency that conducted focus groups of likely recruits to see what appeals to them. They found that candidates want meaningful work and a decent salary. The resulting serious-looking poster declares "Crimefighters Wanted" and then lists the pay and benefits. They decided that anything cute would not work.

It features a photograph of fully armed officers standing in front a patrol car at night with the Akron skyline in the background. The models are white male officer Sean Boal and black female officer Yvette Hamilton. Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth says their goal is to attract recruits that look like the community. But that's a challenge.

Dave Lieberth: One of things that we've identified is that there are abundant jobs for highly competent, college-educated African-American men and women. Police work has to appeal to their desire to want to serve community and do something very important. But we also want them to know what the benefits are. We are very competitive.

The salary starts at $42,000, and with 25 years on the job officers can retire with a state pension as early as age 48. In the late 1970s and through the 80s Akron was under a court consent decree to hire more black police officers, but that expired as goals were met. Cleveland had a similar order that expired in 1995. Officer Hamilton says police work is a tough sell among minorities.

Yvette Hamilton: Unfortunately, I think officers as a whole have a negative image. I don't know if that started with the L.A.P.D. or what. People - a lot of them - in the African-American community are afraid of police officers. I think we need to have better relationships with the community. Especially the minority community. Not only the African American but Latino, Asian... people who are not really represented in the police department.

Hamilton said she never thought she'd be a poster model, but as an African woman on the force, she always knew she'd be a role model.

The city expects to approve between 20 and 30 recruits for its next class. Mark Urycki, 90.3.

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