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Lewiston police hoping to hire officers from Somali community

Lewiston police hoping to hire officers from Somali community

LEWISTON — The top brass of the Lewiston Police Department spoke to members of the Somali community Thursday to let them know the department is hiring.

And if they find the right candidates, they'd like to hire patrol officers from the Somali community.

“We want to have a police department that represents the diversity of the community we serve,” Police Chief Michael Bussiere told a group of Somali parents at the B Street Community Center.

When Bussiere visited schools recently, he noticed more Somali boys listing law enforcement as their dream occupation.

In the next three to four years, up to 20 percent of the department will be eligible for retirement, he said. “That's why we expect several openings in the next several years."

With Bussiere were Deputy Chief Brian O'Malley, Community Resource Sgt. Randy St. Laurent and Community Resource Officer Joe Philippon. Philippon gave an overview of qualifications: a candidate must be 21 and have a high school diploma, but a two- or four-year degree and/or military service is preferred.

Background checks are done before an officer is hired. Candidates must pass tough fitness tests, a lie detector test and meet with a psychologist to make sure they're physically and emotionally capable of doing the work.

“It's a difficult job,” Philippon said.

And after all that, they spend weeks at the police academy.

“The day begins at 5 a.m.," Philippon said. "You're lucky to get to bed at 11 p.m.”

During the day, future officers train and study law.

Somali parents listened with interest. One woman asked if a female wanted to serve, would she have to wear the uniform?

Yes, Philippon said. Loose traditional clothing that many Somali women wear would not be safe for the job. And the uniform is how officers are identified. Officers may be of different races, culture and genders, “but when the officers all go out there, they all look the same; they all dress the same,” Bussiere said.

Another Somali parent said the job looked scary. She's frightened when police “have to fight, put a person to the ground, taking his hands together and putting metal around. I'm worried for that,” she said through an interpreter.

The job is not always easy.

“We have to put people on the ground sometimes,” O'Malley said.

That's how the community stays peaceful, Hawa Osman said through an interpreter.

The group talked about visiting jails, taking a ride with an officer and touring the police station to learn more. They asked about recent reports that a disproportionate number of black youths are arrested.

Bussiere said he disagreed with a recent Sun Journal story that reported arrests of black juveniles are disproportionate to the population. Lewiston's juvenile community is about 32.5 percent black or biracial, Bussiere said.

“Out of that group, 35 to 36 percent of all arrests were black or biracial," he said. "That article was so off the beaten path.” 

And the juvenile crime rate is dropping in Lewiston, he said.

Issa Aden, who grew up in Kenya and has become a U.S. citizen, said he came to learn about police work.

“Back in Kenya, police physically abused people," he said. "When I see a police officer, I used to feel scared.”

It takes courage for him to speak to an officer, he said, adding that he's working to overcome that. He shared a photo of himself with a Lewiston police officer. He said he's glad Lewiston police want to hire Somali officers.

“That would be really awesome,” he said. He has a friend who has completed a two-year degree in criminal justice. “I'm going to give him an application.”

Jama Mohamed said having officers from the Somali community would help. Now, when they talk to an officer, “it takes a while to catch up and understand.” An officer familiar with their culture would more quickly understand.

Mother Adey Noor thanked the police for coming and sharing recruitment information.

“This kind of opportunity is good for the youth,” she said through an interpreter. "More meetings should be held. This cannot be the end.”

“Tell her we agree,” Philippon said. “This is going to be a continued effort on our part.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Full article from the Sun Journal can be accessed at http://www.sunjournal.com/news/lewiston-auburn/2015/05/21/lewiston-police-hoping-hire-officers-somali-community/1703943