Immigrant Cops—Déjà Vu All Over Again

Our federal government continues to debate immigration reform. Since the shootings in San Bernardino, California, that same body is urgently examining methods to screen those who visit and immigrate to the United States.

Our local, county, regional, and state police agencies, on the other hand, deal with a different set of tasks when it comes to local immigrant populations. We build trust with them, we establish relationships, we learn how to best deliver our broadening services, and lately, we have been learning how to hire them as officers, deputies, and troopers.

Let’s just take a moment here and make sure we are all on the same page. We are not talking about illegal immigrants; we are talking about immigrants who are not American citizens but are here legally.

Not all police agencies require officers to be citizens. Some agencies, such as Nashville Police Department, are seeking legislative change to allow the hiring of non-citizens.

There are a number of factors that make broadening our hiring pool prudent and, in fact, necessary:

  • As our communities rapidly become more diverse, it becomes difficult for our agencies to resemble the communities we serve.
  • Our current hiring pool, the Millennial Generation, will remain with our agencies for a shorter period of time. We have avoided this because the recession slowed opportunities in the private sector, and our public sector pensions often created employment loyalty. Both those are changing.
  • We will not be competing agency-to-agency for talent. Once the private sector rebounds, we will have to compete with an employer that will lure employees through quality of life needs, such as schedule control, flexible hours, work at home, job share, and every day is casual Friday.
  • Finally, and I hate to admit it, but it has been a tough year for us. The full effect of today’s police/community climate on our ability to recruit talent to our ranks has yet to be felt.

We’ve been here before. American policing as we know it today began in our large industrial cities in the mid 1800s. Those jobs were not popular. Policing was more of a labor industry than a profession; standards and working conditions were low and the pay was lower. Few wanted that job.

At the same time, an ocean away, Ireland was experiencing the potato famine years.  Between 1846 and 1852, up to two million people had left Ireland. By 1850, the cities of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore were 25% Irish…and nobody wanted to hire them. IRISH NEED NOT APPLY were common signs in windows seekinghelp. In the end, the Irish took the jobs that nobody else wanted.  They filled the ranks of America’s new police agencies. That tradition, frankly, is why you hear bagpipes at police funerals.

We have been here before. Our profession established itself on the backs of hard working immigrant cops.

It’s our tradition.