Policing the minority with the majority

art by Cate McCandless

Cate McCandless

art by Cate McCandless

Jonathan Munroe, news writer

Officer Yvonne Bonner has been in law enforcement for the past 25 years, starting at Northwoods Police Department then moving to her current position at the Kirkwood Police Department (KPD). Bonner worked as an SRO (School Resource Officer) at both North Kirkwood Middle School and Nipher Middle School for seven years, was a member of the detective bureau and currently serves as a patrol officer. There is one difference that sets Bonner apart from the rest of the department: she is the only African-American female on the Kirkwood Police force.

“It feels great [to be the only African-American female officer],” Bonner said. “The ultimate goal for me is that if someone needs me I [will] go and give them everything I have. It doesn’t matter [what I am doing] as long as I’m helping solve their problems. I love to see their face when they know the problem is solved.”

Bonner said her most memorable moments of being a police officer came from her time as an SRO. She made connections with every student to make sure they were doing their best and staying out of trouble.

“I know almost everybody in the community and I love them dearly,” Bonner said. “It means so much to me that I impacted their life because I have a different experience with every kid and their parents. I hate going back to the cells and seeing an old student. The tears just start flowing and I have to stop from falling to the floor.”

According to Chief of Police Brian Murphy, the police department’s goal is to reflect the community and the ratio of officers of color to white officers. Ten percent (6/61) of Kirkwood Police officers are officers of color and another 8 percent (5/61) are female officers.

“[Minority applicants] have to apply here first,” Murphy said. “We reach out to every police academy in the immediate area [and let them know] that we have openings, but we hire the most qualified. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black or Hispanic. Our goal is the most qualified, but we do try to get minority participation.”

Mah’Kya Washington, junior and Black Student Union member, believes the Kirkwood Police Department is not diverse enough for the community. She believes that police officers who are aggressive and off-putting towards people of color discourage others from applying.

“If you are approached that way, you automatically have a connotation toward police officers [and be less likely to join],” Washington said. “If police officers approach nicely and get involved with people of color, people of color will see police as people who are there to serve the community.”

“You might have a black person say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that high of achievement at a great police department. Maybe I can do it too.’ I want to give them inspiration.”

Murphy agrees that officers should become more involved in the community. Since becoming chief, two officers of color have been promoted to supervisory positions. According to Murphy, they were promoted not based off the color of their skin but because they were the most qualified.

According to Murphy, in order to join the Kirkwood Police Department applicants have to go through a number of steps. First, they have to complete basic training at a police academy, fill out an application for the department and finish an interview. Next, they must write a sample police report, run through a background investigation by the detective bureau and be tested by a voice stress analyzer over the application to verify everything is correct. Following those steps is an interview with the chief of police followed by a psychological evaluation. Finally, applicants are given a conditional employment offer, tested by physical examination and must pass a substance abuse test. According to Murphy, all of these steps can be detouring for applicants, and it does not help that less people are wanting to become police officers.

“Diversity plays a great role in society,” Bonner said. “It’s not just saying there’s a black officer here. You might have a black person say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that high of achievement at a great police department. Maybe I can do it too.’ I want to give them inspiration.”