CLEVELAND (AP) — Rasheeda Ivory wants Cleveland residents to see police officers the way she sees her father. The 17-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. High School student hopes one day she’ll show them by wearing a uniform and a badge herself.
Ivory, whose father is a Euclid police officer, is one of 59 Cleveland high school students who are part of the first class of the Law Enforcement Police Pipeline, a program run by Cleveland police, the Cleveland Police Foundation and the Cuyahoga County Community College.
At a time when police officers are highly scrutinized and departments across northeast Ohio struggle to recruit qualified officers to hire, the group of teens gives up weekends, nights and summer days to take part in a program that will help get them to the job quicker.
They do it with pride and sometimes with quizzical looks from peers who don’t understand why they would want to become police officers.
"I want to make the world something better," Ivory said, noting that her father does, too. "There’s so many criminals on the street, he’s trying to put them in jail. To me, he’s trying to make the world better. Most people think police officers are bad, and I want them to see that not all police officers are bad. I want people to see that all police officers are different, and that there is good in a lot of police officers."
Ivory first started talking to her father about being a police officer when she was about 12 years old. She’s never wavered in her quest to follow in his footsteps.
"He’s very supportive," she said. "He always tells me I can do anything I want in life. My dad told me, anything a man can do a woman can do to."
She jumped at the chance to join the new program that aims to get minority students interested in law enforcement and usher them into programs with the city that give them paid jobs within the police department while attending Tri-C’s criminal justice program.
The goal is to have highly qualified minority candidates ready to be hired as Cleveland police officers when they turn 21. The program also has a lofty goal of making the city’s police department more closely mirror the city’s racial makeup.
The city’s population is 53 percent black, but two-thirds of Cleveland police officers are white.
The first crop of candidates started out in the first part of the program — through the Boy Scouts of America’s Law Enforcement Explorer’s Program.
Through that program, the teens take field trips, go through real-life training exercises and study the newest tactics used by police officers.
Most of the students in the program go to Martin Luther King Jr. High School, where the school has a track specifically tailored to those interested in law enforcement.
Some of the students said they became interested in police work because of popular TV shows or movies. Others are like Jones, following in a relative’s footsteps.
Nicole Williams’ stepfather is an East Cleveland police officer, who joined the force as an older cop. She saw him work through the training, take the civil service tests and proudly wear his uniform to work every day.
"The passion and ambition that I saw in him for the job, I was like, ‘Oh yeah,‘" Williams said.
Jeremiah Brown, another 17-year-old, said he’s seen friends and family members on both sides of the law. His uncle is a Cleveland police officer.
"I wanted to be a police officer and be in the community and make a change in the community. I have cousins that are in the streets," Brown said. "I see them in the streets. I don’t want to end up in jail or dead."
Others were spurred on not just by positive interactions with officers, but negative ones. Teyla Alexander, 17, said a relative’s home was trashed during a drug raid by police officers when she was growing up. She said from that point on, whenever police officers arrived in her neighborhood, her family would scatter indoors.
"I kind of wanted to be a police officer because a lot of people don’t like the police," Alexander said. "But we need more positive police officers to change how people feel about them."
Several of the students said they have to fight against the negative perception that their family members or friends have of police officers.
Tyrence James, another 17-year-old MLK student, said friends have questioned why he would he would want to become a police officer as a young black.
"The younger people feel like you’re turning on them," James said.
Older family members have also questioned his choice. But James said he’s noticed a change in the Cleveland police department, specifically pointing to the bike unit deployed during the Republic National Convention that has since been used as a community policing tool.
"Once we get to the police academy when we’re 21, I feel that there won’t be as much hate toward police officers as there is now," James said. "I think the attitude will end up being more, yeah police officers did that but we’re in a new generation. There’s going to still be hated, but not as much."