Though the Twin Cities is known to have the largest Somali population in the United States, there is only one Somali officer working in the St. Paul Police Department.
But someday soon, that could be changing.
As part of a push to diversify its ranks and improve its relations with the minority community, the department is on the verge of graduating its first East African Junior Police Academy class.
On Saturday, 30 participants, ranging in age from 14 to 22 — who met weekly in February — will graduate from the program, which was designed to nurture interest in future police work.
"We got one [officer]. We need more," Commander Matt Toupal, who has helped run the academy, said about the dearth of Somali officers in the department.
Toupal said the academy gives youth who are interested in police work a chance to get their foot in the door at the Police Department. Some have already said that they want to pursue a career in law enforcement, Toupal said.
While there have been other junior police academies in St. Paul, the East African Junior Police Academy is the first targeting that immigrant group. Academy activities somewhat mirror the department's other citizen academies, allowing participants a behind-the-scenes look at policing to learn everything from defensive tactics to dusting evidence for fingerprints.
"I didn't want something lame," Toupal said. "I wanted this to be hands-on."
Four of the participants are girls and all are dedicated, which speaks to the program's appeal and success, Toupal said.
"It's a community that we need to have good relationships with. This is just another way for us to reach out," said Howie Padilla, police spokesman.
The Police Department has recently launched other initiatives to interact with the East African community, including holding its first halal cookout last summer and a girls swim group at the downtown YMCA for Somali girls.
"Things are going to change. I think we're helping to break down some of these barriers," Toupal said.
The graduation will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Police Department's Western District offices at 389 Hamline Av. N., Padilla said.