PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The city of Providence, where nearly 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, is paying close attention to the developments in Ferguson, Missouri. The city's Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Tuesday that the city police department can learn from what happened there and that more needs to be done in Providence to continue diversifying the force.
Currently 11 percent of the police force in Providence is Hispanic. Last month, the largest and most diverse class in the department's history graduated from the training academy — of the 53 new officers, seven are women and 22 are members of minority groups. The graduates speak 14 different languages.
"As we move forward, we need to improve on that," Commissioner Pare said after an event at the public safety complex on Tuesday. "We need more women, we need more minorities, we need more bilingual individuals, and that has been our focus. That doesn't solve the tension between police and minority communities but it helps," he added.
A grand jury decided Monday not to indict a white police officer in Ferguson in the fatal shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown. Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, who was unarmed, Aug. 9, in one of America's most racially charged cases in recent years.
After the grand jury's decision was announced, businesses in Ferguson were destroyed, authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots and dozens of people were arrested.
Providence Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza said he doesn't think such violence would have erupted if the police department had a better relationship with the communities it serves.
"We will take that lesson to make sure we continue to emphasize community relationships because policing now is about so much more than just arresting bad guys," he said. "It's about making sure the police are partners in community development. That's going to be the focus going in."
Elorza said his administration will work to continue diversifying the police force and offer incentives for officers to live in Providence. He said the relationship between the police department and the community is strong, but could get better.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.