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Black officers not represented proportionately based on population

Keys police agencies find it difficult to recruit black officers and deputies.

State and federal data show the racial makeups of the Key West Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office do not match that of the populations they serve.

In Key West, according to 2014 Florida Department of Law Enforcement data published in March, only four of the Police Department's 94 law enforcement officers, about 4.2 percent, are black.

But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, African-Americans make up 11.4 percent of Key West's 24,934 people.

"When it comes to recruiting African-Americans, it's historically been a challenge," Police Chief Donie Lee said.

Lee said there is a stigma, particularly for African-Americans, with potentially policing in their own communities. He also attributed the lack of representation to distrust between police departments and minority communities.

City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, whose district includes Bahama Village, cited historical reasons behind the distrust. "It's no different here than it would be anywhere else," he said.

Lopez, a fourth-generation Conch, has family in law enforcement and saw race riots in the 1970s. "I was able to witness some of the abuses first-hand. I have been able to see both sides of it from different perspectives," Lopez said.

He said, for example, that children who grow up in Bahama Village may only see "the negative side of what the police do," especially if a family member is arrested in a rough way. Growing up on Whitehead Street, on the other hand, kids get to see the social side of the officers.

According to Lopez, the number of African-American police officers is "ridiculously disparate." But he credited Lee with trying to change the culture with programs like the Explorers, which puts local high-school students on a track toward being a police officer.

Lee described it as an after-school "mini police academy," as the students end up getting police uniforms and learn skills such as discipline and self-esteem.

The chief is scheduled to be in Tampa this week for the 30th National Conference on Preventing Crime in the Black Community, which runs through Friday. Lee attended the same conference about four years ago.

"The goal is to bring back new ideas and best practices for building stronger relationships with the black community," Lee said.

As for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, only six of the department's 168 deputies working in patrol units, or almost 3.6 percent, are African-American, according to Donna A. Moore, the Sheriff's Office Human Resources executive director.

Countywide, based on the census numbers, African-Americans make up 6.9 percent of the Keys' 76,536 people.

Moore said the department is trying to have its workforce mirror the community. "We're recruiting more African-Americans in order to bring that figure up," Moore said.

The Sheriff's Office lists job openings in black-oriented magazines such as Black Enterprise, visits local high schools and has its own Explorer program. "We're on the right track," Moore said.

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