Oklahoma police department struggling to get more Hispanics on the force

The Tulsa Police Department is struggling to match the diversity the city is experiencing from a growing Hispanic population.

Only 28 of the department's 762 officers are classified as "Spanish speakers," said Jesse Guardiola, the department's Hispanic outreach coordinator. Guardiola said there are only 22 Hispanic officers on the entire force, so it's impossible to send someone who speaks Spanish to every call that needs one.

In 2000, there were fewer than 30,000 documented Hispanics in Tulsa. Today, in the city of about 400,000, there are nearly 60,000 Latinos, and Guardiola said that total rises to about 80,000 if you include the number of Hispanics in the country illegally, the Tulsa World reported Saturday.

"We've been told that, to match the population, we would need to add 90 Hispanic officers," Guardiola said. "Not just have, but add to what we've already got. It's a situation that's at a critical point."

City budget cuts have left the department facing the prospect of potentially just one police academy in 2015. But even a handful of graduating classes wouldn't add enough — only one Spanish-speaking officer graduated in the department's last academy.

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Guardiola travels to college campuses in El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, several times each year to recruit Spanish-speaking prospects. New Mexico State University's enrollment is 65 percent Hispanic, he said, and the University of Texas at El Paso's is 90 percent.

Guardiola's pitch to the potential officers is simple: You're in a saturated market where almost every potential officer speaks Spanish.

"Want to be a detective?" Guardiola asks them. "If you're willing to move 10 hours away to Tulsa, the opportunity for special assignments is immense. . You can rise through the ranks here really quick."

Guardiola fears what will happen if the department doesn't get more Spanish-speaking officers, which he thinks would breed distrust in a community that already is at what he called a tipping point.

"By 2050, Hispanics will be one-third of our workforce, but they'll have the lowest levels of education," Guardiola said.

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