Amber Hawkins, 27, wanted to become a police officer for all the “mushy, cookie-cutter reasons.”
“I genuinely find enjoyment in finding ways I can help people,” said Hawkins, a patrolwoman for District 2 in South St. Louis. “You’re outside every day. You get to interact with a million different people.”
When she was applying to the St. Louis Police Academy about three years ago, a sergeant told her that she could increase her chances of being accepted by participating in the Pre-Academy Recruitment Program, a free, 10-week program sponsored by the Ethical Society of Police.
She took him up on it. The program did help her prepare for the academy, Hawkins said, but it also taught her skills that she still uses every day on the job.
“I’m open to not only doing my job professionally, but also knowing that some people deserve a second chance,” said Hawkins, a Cahokia, Illinois native. “I’m not just looking to nail people to the board.”
One of the most remarkable things about the program was the wide variety of guest speakers, Hawkins said.
“They had everyone from the chief of police down to protestors and families whose loved ones were killed by law enforcement. It gave me an invaluable perspective and helped me understand that there is always gray areas to this job,” she said.
“I think some people would like to think that the job is black and white, and if you see someone doing a crime, there is only one way to handle the situation. Everything shouldn’t be a sentence or blemish on a person’s record.”
The next Pre-Academy Recruitment Program 10-week course begins on Tuesday, February 27, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and continues Tuesday and Thursday evenings through May 3. Classes will be held at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, 3701 Grandel Square. The free program is open to individuals of all races and genders, 19 and older.
Retired city sergeant Clarence Hines, the program’s coordinator, said they have had 37 participants hired on a police department since 2015.
“That has stirred my heart,” Hines said.
All of the instructors in the recruitment program are all former police academy instructors, he said.
“We know exactly what it takes to have them ready from day number one,” Hines said. “They have a leg up in being prepared to endure the rigors of the academy. The ones who have gone through have done very well.”
The Ethical Society of Police, an association that advocates for racial equity in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, started the program because they wanted to increase diversity in the department, Hines said. And the increase in minority officers shows that it has done that, he said, especially considering what happened when the program lost funding in 2017.
“The data says that they were at 34 percent (minority officers) while it was going,” Hines said, “and just in this one year with the program not being funded, the number for St. Louis police dropped to 30 percent. We believe it has tremendous value to make sure there is diversity within in the ranks.”
From Hawkins’ experience, having more African-American officers in the department would be beneficial, she said.
“I deal with people of color who still have distrust because I wear a blue uniform to work,” Hawkins said. “Even though they’re apprehensive, they still seem to feel less guarded around me. I’m not sure if it’s the way I speak with them, or if it’s because I’m female or African-American.”
Chris Jamison, a graduate of the program and an officer in the 5th District, also sees the difference.
“People will engage more with someone who looks and talks and sympathizes the same way that they do,” Jamison said.
Jamison, who grew up in Ferguson, decided to take the recruitment courses after applying to the St. Louis County Police Department two times and not making it in.
The program helped him “in a big way” with his interviewing skills, he said.
“Interviewing for any job is kind of hard to come in blind and not know what to say or do,” Jamison said.
The interviewing preparation and the courses gave his overall score a boost, he said, and the networking opportunities were invaluable.
State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., who has been a speaker for the program since the beginning, stepped in this year to secure funding for the program through the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. The Ethical Society also is partnering with the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) to provide job support to attendees who may not qualify to become police officers.
To become a police officer in Missouri, candidates must be at least 21 years old, a U.S. citizen with a high school diploma or GED and no criminal record, must graduate from an authorized police training academy, and must pass the Missouri Peace Officer License Exam.
Hines stresses that participating in the program doesn’t guarantee entrance into the academy. But Hawkins said it is worth it regardless.
“For anyone who is looking to become a police officer,” she said, “there are a lot of things that happen in the class that will help you decide if this is the right career for you.”
Class size is limited. To register, call 314-478-8140 or connect via Twitter at @STLMin_Recruits.