Deputy Symone Bullard graduated into the Broward County Sheriff’s office last month. She grew up in Pompano Beach, and says she’s lost some of her friends over her new job.
“It’s been rough,” Bullard told us, citing the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed. “I feel a lot of people have animosity towards the police.”
Bullard says that having a diverse police force is key, and that rebuilding trust will take showing up day after day. She hopes to do that while patrolling the community where she grew up.
“I’m excited to go out in Pompano and speak with my family and friends,” she said. “I’m excited to tell them my experience and let them know police is good. Everyone is not bad."
NBC 6 Investigators looked at the demographics from 11 law enforcement agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, large and small. We found that all but four have a much smaller percentage of Black officers than the percentage of Black people in their jurisdictions.
Fort Lauderdale, Miami Gardens, Miramar, North Miami Beach and Broward County under-represent their Black populations by 15% to 20%.
Officials from the departments told us they’re working to recruit more diverse candidates.
A BSO spokesperson explained the numbers don’t include deputies who are also certified as correctional officers.
Miami Gardens and North Miami have increased the percentage of Black officers every year since 2015.
According to data released by the FDLE, Black officers were 32% of Miami Gardens police force in 2015. Data provided by the department shows they now represent roughly 51% of the police force.
In North Miami Police, Black officers make up 49% of the police force versus 35% in 2015.
In an email, North Miami Police Chief Larry Juriga listed some of the efforts the department has made to expand diversity, from placing recruitment billboards across Miami-Dade County to promoting recruitment at job fairs, military events, police academy classes and local colleges.
“We look forward to adding more officers to our unified, diverse and inclusive Police Department,” Chief Juriga wrote.
According to records provided by each department, Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, City of Miami and Opa Locka have around equal or more Black officers than the percentage in their community.
Lauderhill Police Chief Constance Stanley first became an officer after she says her family was mistreated by police.
“I need to be a change agent so I decided this was a profession I had to take,” Chief Stanely told NBC 6. She says the Lauderhill’s police force is roughly 35% Black. The city is 78% Black.
Stanley describes a number of challenges: from officers of color being poached for larger and higher-paying departments to the spotlight on officers’ misconduct across the country and the community trust issues, which she says do impact hiring.
“At some point, it does beat you down,” Stanley said, adding “they (her officers) keep their head up, they know what they’re here for, they have a job to do, and they don’t take it personal.”
Chief Stanley says they lost one of their Black officers to COVID-19 and the pandemic has closed many job fairs and community events where the department would normally be recruiting.
As a way to improve the relationship with the community, the chief says her department has implemented multiple community programs like “coffee with a cop,” citizens’ police academy and secret santa events.
The department says they will launch a new outreach program next Thursday called “Community Walk,” which involves command staff personnel physically walking the neighborhoods in the department’s jurisdiction and meeting with residents to provide information about Lauderhill Police and recruitment efforts.
Stanley says they have more than 20 positions open and are interviewing every week. “We have to just continue establishing that report with the community to make sure they trust who we are,” she said.
Bullard echoes the sentiment. “If I’m able to help everyone out there understand, we’re here to help you, we’re here to serve you and protect you,” she said.