Khulia Pringle made her regular stop at Sense of Style beauty salon in St. Paul on Friday morning when she ran into an unexpected group.
She left after a long conversation with St. Paul police leaders, aspiring black female officers and a pair of radio hosts who had partnered to recruit black women into the St. Paul Police Department. The department’s last remaining black female officer, Sgt. Valarie Namen, retired last year.
“If you’re going to recruit, you’ve got to go where the people are,” said Pringle, a St. Paul resident and education advocate. “There’s a long, bad history between the African-American community and the police.”
Sheletta Brundidge and Lindy Vincent, hosts of the Two Haute Mamas podcast on WCCO Radio, dreamed up the idea of recruiting black women at beauty salons and churches after hearing about Namen’s retirement, which left the department with no black female officers for the first time in 43 years. Brundidge said they approached Deputy Chief Mary Nash with the plan after learning that police were using social media to promote a Jan. 19 recruitment event aimed at women.
“We’ve got jobs, husbands, kids — we don’t have time to sit on social media and look at this,” Brundidge said. “Where are you going to find black women? The beauty shop and church.”
The radio personalities, Nash, Senior Cmdr. Shari Gray and two black women in the department’s Law Enforcement Career Path Academy (LECPA) — Rae Brown and Tanisha Morgan — staffed the recruitment effort at Sense of Style, 920 Selby Av.
They spoke to customers and handed out fliers promoting the Jan. 19 seminar geared toward women ages 14 and older interested in learning more about working with St. Paul police. The informational seminar is part of the 628-officer-strong department’s ongoing efforts to boost the number of women in its ranks, which has dropped from 16 percent in 2016 to about 14 percent.
Brown and Morgan are slated to become the department’s next black female officers if they continue with the LECPA and graduate from a police academy expected to begin this fall. A third black female officer in the program is on track for a later academy.
“I was shocked,” Morgan said of her reaction last month when she found out the department had no black female officers.
“It’s shocking because you think of how diverse St. Paul is, and to think there’s not one?” Brown said.
“It heightens the importance of what I’m doing,” Morgan said.
Morgan graduated with a degree in health and human services and realized she wasn’t interested in the field. Brown, her classmate, suggested the LECPA as a good outlet for her interests.
Morgan, who said she grew up witnessing troubling interactions between suburban police and her father and brother, who are black, was hesitant.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable with law enforcement,” she said of her initial reaction.
But Morgan’s interest in working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence coupled with the desire to give her 4-year-old daughter a stable life eventually persuaded her.
Brown, who grew up in Houston, hovered around the edges of social justice movements without directly participating. She helped serve Thanksgiving meals to demonstrators who camped outside Minneapolis police’s Fourth Precinct in protest of the 2015 police killing of Jamar Clark. The July 2016 march on I-94 protesting the officer-involved killing of Philando Castile helped convince her she could make a difference as a police officer.
“If I’m able to get my foot in the door and start those dialogues, that can help serve as a bridge,” Brown said. “I’m going to do something to help make you feel less afraid. I think that’s what my end goal is.”
Police and community members say recruiting women and people of color can be challenging because of historical trauma between them and law enforcement, social pressures and a lack of representation.
“It’s like a vicious cycle,” Pringle said. “You don’t see anybody like you, so you don’t want to join. It has to start somewhere.”
Pringle said she planned to share information about the seminar with people she knows, including her daughter who works with high school students, and wanted to organize a group to attend the event.
Brundidge and Vincent plan to execute similar efforts in the near future at other businesses and churches, even though about five businesses had rejected them until salon owner Torih Michelle Holmes obliged.
Brown and Morgan said the power of representation follows them everywhere. The two, dressed in blue outfits bearing the St. Paul police logo, were having lunch at a local pho restaurant recently when a black female customer insisted on taking a picture with them.
“She was, ‘What?! They’ve got sisters?!,’ ” Brown recalled. “We all have some sort of privilege, and we have to use that to help people around us.”