EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. - A Monroe County organization says the county needs more police officers and more diversity in law enforcement, but local departments keep running into a big roadblock.
“People of color don’t want to be police officers,” Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Danea Durham said Wednesday at a gathering organized by Monroe County United.
Durham, an African American who works in recruiting, said that some minority recruits dropped out of a recent training class because of racial tension over the deaths of Black men in police custody.
“We unfortunately see blue as an enemy,” said Mark Holmes, an African American who lives in East Stroudsburg. “The real issue is fixing that perception. That is the biggest problem.”
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May set off a summer of protests and riots over the treatment of Black men by law enforcement.
Monroe County United is trying to ease racial tension by “building relationships and breaking down barriers,” said Thomas Jones, the organization's president.
His organization held its second Law Enforcement Town Hall at Dansbury Park in East Stroudsburg on Wednesday.
Bishop Robert Williams Jr. of Salt of the Earth Ministries said that the local police departments should reflect the demographics of Monroe County, which has white, Asian, Hispanic and Black residents.
Mayor Tarah Probst of Stroudsburg Borough suggested that police departments “get to minority children early” to guide young people into law enforcement careers.
Recruiting new officers in general is difficult, with many applicants not passing written tests, Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner said.
“People aren’t applying,” Chief Jennifer Lyon of the Stroud Area Regional Police Department said. When it comes to increasing the applicant pool, “I’m at a loss,” she conceded.
Several questions focused on how police deal with people who are mentally ill.
Capt. Michael Carroll of state police Troop N said that officers deal with repeat calls to the same homes, calls made by family members who need help with relatives in crisis because of mental illness or drug abuse.
“When we get there, we are obliged by law to take the person and detain him if he is a danger to himself or others,” Carroll said. “It does sometimes get physical,” but he said that officers do not want to harm anybody.
When it was suggested that crisis counselors should respond to such calls, Trooper Anthony Petroski said that police have to deal with the dangerous person first. A counselor can’t evaluate a person until the scene is safe.
“We are a fraction of these incidents,” Stroud Area Regional Officer Jerome Taylor said. “We play a small role,” he said in explaining that mental-health professionals, families and the court system make decisions about treatment while police must respond during a crisis.
On the issue of training, Pocono Mountain Chief Wagner disagreed with the idea that more training is always a solution to police problems. He said that his department and others already have extensive training programs.
“It’s not that we need more training; it’s that we need better students,” he said.
Wagner said that his department is still getting good recruits, but that police forces in general need top-quality applicants.
“Give us your best and your brightest,” Wagner said.
Monroe County United was formed in 2016 after the deaths of Black men in police custody and the ambush of five police officers in Dallas.
“People in Monroe County were concerned that the same kind of violence could happen here,” said Jones, organizer of Wednesday's meeting.
He said the meetings between police and residents have promoted understanding, but “we know racial tensions are high throughout the nation.”
More meetings are planned, Jones said.