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Arizona DPS head talks challenges in recruiting young, diverse applicants

Arizona Department of Public Safety head Col. Frank Milstead. (AP Photo)
LISTEN: Colonel Frank Milstead, Director of Arizona DPS

PHOENIX — Law enforcement agencies across Arizona are looking to recruit a new class of young and diverse applicants as it struggles to fill hundreds of positions in the state.

But despite the state having a “very professional” law enforcement community, potential applicants are often turned away due to the “Ferguson effect,” according to Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Col. Frank Milstead.

In an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes, Milstead said some potential applicants believe being involved in certain types of police work, such as making traffic stops, is dangerous because if something goes wrong “they’re going to be 100 percent responsible.”

“So that ‘Ferguson effect,’ I think, is real,” Milstead said. “We can deny it as leadership, but what they have to see — the men and women who work in these positions — is that we support them if they are doing the right things for the right reasons.”

The “Ferguson effect” is a belief that the scrutiny of police increased after the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014. Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

According to the effect, this increased scrutiny then led to an increase in crime rates in major cities across the country.

But Milstead emphasized that applicants should not be dissuaded by this belief, saying that law enforcement agencies emphasize the importance of public trust.

“From every level of police organization, from the lowest level to the highest level, there is none of us that want bad eggs in this operation because without public trust we are powerless,” he said.

There are about 370 open positions in the Phoenix Police Department, 43 for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and 185 for the Department of Public Safety, Milstead said.

On Saturday, representatives from more than a dozen public safety departments in Arizona will hold a career fair at the north Valley campus of Northern Arizona University from 10 a.m. to noon.

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