Diversity discussed at council meeting

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 19, 2020


STERLING HEIGHTS — At the June 16 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski said city officials had more to say about law enforcement policies and governmental reforms.

Dwojakowski said racial diversity “legitimizes your police department” because “everyone comes with a basket full of life experiences.” He pointed to racial disparities between the police and the public in past unrest in Detroit in 1967 and Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Dwojakowski gave an ethnic demographic breakdown of the SHPD, concluding that it’s 92% white, 3% black, 2% Chaldean/Arab, 1% Asian, 1% Albanian, less than 1% Hispanic/Latino and 0% American Indian. To compare, he said the last census count put the city’s black residents at around 5% of the city’s population.

The police chief gave more details about plans to improve the Police Department’s training and operations. He said the SHPD is doing accreditation through the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. In addition, he said, all officers will get implicit bias training and de-escalation training through July and August. He also said that, while the department has talked about acquiring body cameras for officers before, it is now committed to doing so.

“I think now is the time. Transparency is being demanded, and I don’t see any reason to wait any longer,” Dwojakowski said.

Dwojakowski also talked about promoting the Police Department and recruiting minority demographics to join and become officers. He talked about being proactive, saying, “if you do nothing, nothing will work.”

He said the SHPD sees its recruitment and outreach programs, including career fairs and involvement in the MI Bright Future program, as an investment.

“We spend money for this,” he said. “If you’re not selling the Sterling Heights brand, people don’t know about you, and people won’t apply.”

During the meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool reminded residents of the language used in part of Sterling Heights’ 2030 Visioning statement: “A vibrant, inclusive community for residents and businesses that is safe, active, progressive and distinctive.”

“Certainly, Sterling Heights is not immune from the challenge at hand, so I wanted to talk first … about what we are doing in the city of Sterling Heights to foster inclusiveness and to foster diversity,” he said.

Vanderpool said the city will form an African American Coalition on Equity to help represent the more than 10,000 black residents who live in the city, as well as discuss ways to promote racial equity locally. Officials plan to get the group started within 30 days of its announcement.

“We have already about 12 black residents that have agreed to serve on this coalition,” he said. “We have many others that have expressed interest. I would imagine that the coalition would grow to 20-plus members easily.”

According to the city, the group will consist of African American residents with backgrounds in business, clergy, education, government and health care. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Macomb Ministerial Alliance, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Macomb County Interfaith Center for Racial Justice could play a ro