Growing up in Miami Beach, Fla., Tyrone Farillas was inspired by other Hispanics working in law enforcement.
"They always helped their own," said the 25-year-old native Guatemalan. They respected minority communities and helped them integrate into the larger society.Now, as one of Salt Lake City's newest police officers, Farillas hopes to do the same.
"I want to get involved with my people, the Spanish people, and help them get involved in the community; show them that I'm not above them but that I'm just like them . . . let them see that there are options out there for them."
Although just one of 17 Hispanics in his department, Farillas is part of a growing number of minorities, including blacks, Polynesians, Asians and American Indians, along the Wasatch Front who are choosing careers in crime fighting.
In Salt Lake City alone, the number of minority sworn officers within the past decade has grown from virtually none to 46. That amounts to just 10 percent of the department's 428 officers - the best ratio in the valley - but if current trends remain constant, that number could easily double in the next decade.
A good indicator that the racial composition of police agencies in Utah may be changing is that 8 to 10 percent of the spaces in every session of the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training academy are being filled by minorities, said POST Director Sid Groll.
Some of those are sponsored by police departments. But many recent graduates have benefited from the academy-sponsored New Horizons minority scholarship that has been instrumental in helping some minority candidates break into the field, said Salt Lake Police Lt. Phil Kirk, chairman of the scholarship's selecting committee.
At the academy's most recent session, there were two blacks, one Hispanic and one Asian in a class of 20. Both blacks were recipients of the New Horizons scholarship, which pays for the nearly $2,700 tuition fee for the 14-week certification program.
One of those recipients, Tyrone Boyd, 23, was the top graduate of his class, receiving the High Academic Award and the all-around Outstanding Achievement Award during May's graduation.
Nine credit hours away from a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Weber State University, Boyd had been unable to get a job with local police agencies until he enrolled in POST.
"I've tested many times for many departments and not made it," he said. In order to get hired, applicants have to pass the police department's physical, mental and psychological examinations.
Boyd knew that getting academy certification could help him land a job, but he did not have the money for tuition and to support himself during the training.
Likewise, fellow graduate John Thomas had been trying to get a job with departments from Ogden to Sandy for about two years.
"That is very discouraging, when you go through everything and you are qualified but they tell you you're not qualified because you're not POST certified," said the 27-year-old Sunset resident.
With two children and one on the way, his hopes of paying his way through POST were low, until he saw an ad for the New Horizons scholarship.
Now, two weeks after graduation, Thomas is No. 1 on the Ogden Police Department hire list, and Boyd has started with the Wend-over Police Department.
In order to help minorities prepare for the series of tests required by most departments, the Salt Lake Police Department has begun to offer training courses.
"We intend to do the training for all applicants but specifically encourage minorities to take advantage of it," Kirk said. "We have made a concentrated effort on recruiting in the minority community because we feel that the more diversified our department is, the better we're going to represent the interests of the community we serve."
After a decade of actively seeking minorities, Salt Lake City has the distinction of having the highest percentage of Polynesian sworn officers in the continental United States. But that kind of success doesn't happen on its own, Kirk said.
It helps that both Kirk and the department's chief, Ruben Ortega, are Hispanic. But other agencies also agree that there is wisdom in diversifying.
"We have to be as diverse as the community that we are serving," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard. "That adds a lot of credibility to the job we're doing."
The problem is that not enough minorities are applying due to low pay incentives, he said.
"We're just not making it attractive enough for them," he said. "All the other agencies and all the other companies want the minorities as well, and I can't compete when I can pay a guy 25 grand when he gets out of college and he can earn 50 grand someplace else."
Some departments feel, however, that they ought to recruit from the community at large and not from specific groups.
"Minorities have equal access to this agency as anyone else," said West Valley Police Lt. Charles Illsley. But "we don't hire because they are minorities; we recruit from the human race."
Similarly, Sandy's police department does not actively recruit minorities, but it looks for special skills that an applicant may offer, like knowledge of a foreign language or culture, said the department's hiring director, Sgt. Kevin Thacker.
"The biggest thing is that we're seeing more of them (minorities) apply and test, and that's good," Thacker said.
So far, West Valley City has 13 minority officers out of 158, and Sandy has eight out of 107.
Perhaps the biggest factor that has kept minorities out of law enforcement agencies has been minorities themselves.
Sandy police officer Fernando Baragano, a native Puerto Rican, had to overcome a cultural dislike for police officers before he embraced the profession.
Due to a lack of education and problems with corruption, police officers are "at the bottom of the scale" in Puerto Rico, Baragano said. But he learned to respect and appreciate police while working as a counselor with the Los Angeles Police Department Gang Unit.
That's when he decided to become a law enforcer despite his parents' objections.
"They don't tell anyone that I'm a police officer because they're ashamed of me," Baragano said.
Even some minorities with roots in the United States have a hard time accepting police officers.
"It seems like throughout history minorities have always had a general mistrust of the police," said Boyd, who grew up in Salt Lake City's Glendale area.
"Just that attitude right there keeps a lot of minorities away. It's like, why should I become a cop when everybody in my community doesn't like cops, the music that I listen to talks about how bad the cops are and how we should kill them all. . . . For people who are in those communities, the word police is a dirty word."
Boyd believes that sometimes there may be a reason for that animosity towards police officers. For instance, once he and some friends were hanging out near a convenience store when two police officers approached them and began questioning them about where they had been and what they were doing.
"There is a time when they (police) basically know that you're not up to anything, and they should just stop and knock it off, understand that you're cool," Boyd said. "But they keep on doing it, trying to get something out of you that isn't there."
Fortunately, he was able to "blow it off" and "think for myself."
"I had a bad incident with police but never held it against all law enforcement," he said.
Police academy minority scholarship available
To qualify for the New Horizons police academy minority scholarship, candidates must be at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen, and they must have passed the Utah Police Academy entrance test.
Those interested must submit a resume and cover letter to: New Horizons Scholarship Program, Attention James Brown, 150 S. 600 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. Questions about the program can be answered by Brown, 363-3060, Sgt. Ron Stalworth, 284-6222, or Lt. Phil Kirk, 799-3458.
Five full scholarships are awarded each year to attend the 14-week police academy. A committee of area minority police officers selects the recipients based on qualifications and financial need. Upon completion of the academy, recipients are certified as Category I peace officers.