Shifting the blue line: Why a black woman is joining LAPD

Police departments struggle to recruit new candidates
Police departments struggle to recruit new candidates

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Police departments struggle to recruit new candidates 02:32

Story highlights

  • Police seeing fewer candidates apply in wake of spotlight on officer-involved shootings
  • NYPD applications down 18%; LAPD saw 16% drop in recruits since 2012
  • Asia Hardy, 26, says some relatives and friends questioned her career choice as a black woman

Los Angeles (CNN)Asia Hardy grips the training gun, her arms raised, edging slowly toward the suspect. "Slowly come down to your knees. Don't move!" she orders.

Hardy's voice is steady but still tinged with the hesitation expected from a young police recruit.
Hardy walks forward, her Los Angeles Police Department training officer behind her, ticking off verbal assessments as she approaches the suspect in this training drill. The "suspect" in this drill is a much larger man.
    As Hardy cuffs the suspect, you can't ignore the contrast in their size -- or that she looks younger than her 26 years and is vastly outnumbered by male recruits. She also is only one of two African-American women in her recruit class.
    Some friends and extended family noted those distinctions when she told them she planned to become a cop.
    "It's not something that happens in the African-American community every day," she says.
    Relatives shook their heads when Hardy told them she wanted to become a police officer, because they believed Hardy's education exceeds what's required to enter the police academy. Hardy graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and is midway through her master's in health administration at Cal State Northridge.
    "Being a black female and having my degree, I got some slack," Hardy says. They asked her, "Why choose this?"
    Her mother and grandmother also argued that as a black female cop, Hardy was choosing a dangerous career path. She needed to focus on the challenge of being a single mother and to think of her daughter, 3-year-old Mali, they said.
    And the ever-swirling conversation about policing and race certainly hasn't put her family at ease.
    "I think that it is not as easy for our family members or our friends to actually accept the profession that we are going into just because of the perception African-Americans have towards law enforcement," says Hardy, seeming a bit fatigued from having to justify her career choice.
    LAPD Lt. Aaron McCraney, the officer in charge of recruitment, says he hears the sobering comments repeatedly at job fairs.
    The direct impact of officer-involved shootings on recruiting new officers is unclear, but police departments small and large are having fewer candidates apply to become officers.
    Post-Ferguson, the New York Police Department, the country's biggest police force, says applications are down 18%. LAPD saw a 16% drop in applications since 2013. In Philadelphia, where police have had a decadeslong problem of trying to attract new hires, police recruit numbers dropped 47% in 2014 from 2008. Even the small police force in Leesburg, Virginia, says while it hasn't seen a drop in applications, far fewer qualified candidates are applying, affecting their ability to hire good cops.
    McCraney says social media has become the instant judge and jury in police shootings, repeating initial beliefs, even if the circumstances change in the investigation. To try to balance the scales, the LAPD has turned to social media, using @joinLAPD on Twitter to make its own case.
    But perception of police officers within the African-American community is a hard ship to turn around. News coverage of high-profile, officer-involved shootings, all caught either in part or in their entirety on citizen video or officer body cameras, doesn't help.
    The names and faces of many of the people shot by the officers in these publicized shootings are familiar to us now: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati, Ohio. And there are others.
    Recruit Hardy pushes those faces aside for another, more personal one.
    For Hardy, the face she thinks of as she runs through repeated drills and testing at the academy is Pasadena Police Sgt. Percy Tucker. Tucker, now retired, was the father of Hardy's childhood friend. Hardy grew up just a few houses down on the same street in Pasadena.
    "He was so stern. A man of his word," says Hardy, as if she were speaking about her own father. "He'd come home and tell us about what he'd witness out there. He was the only African-American sergeant in the department and was able to overcome the challenges. He instilled good values and I looked up to that."
    Hardy didn't grow up with relatives being harassed or unjustly shot by police. Through Tucker, she witnessed the rewards policing could offer.
    After graduating from UNLV, Hardy was drawn to the notion of being a force for social good in her community. She became a residential counselor at a group home for foster children. She counseled them through the effects of drug addiction, rape and prostitution.
    Soon, picking up the pieces after the crimes wasn't enough. Hardy wanted to stop the crimes head-on.
    Hardy applied and was accepted into the police academy. The police academy makes no bones about the rigorous nature of its 24-week course: defensive tactics, driving, testing, firearms, physical training and behavior assessment. About 70% of recruits don't make it, say academy trainers.
    In her first attempt at the academy, Hardy became one of those who failed, unable to meet the standards for firearms.
    "It was extremely hard, one of the hardest things I've ever gone through," she says.
    If Hardy's family thought this would be the end of a whimsical pursuit, they were wrong. Hardy applied again and this time, with only weeks left, expects to pass. Her trainers, so impressed with her ability to lead, named her the recruit class leader.
    "This is my passion. There's nothing that makes me happier than to think about being a police officer," she says, smiling broadly.
    Hardy may be steadfastly determined, but she is not blind to the challenges of being a black female cop, post-Ferguson.
    "Even with all of the backlash that law enforcement is getting, I am moving forward with it," she says. "Despite everything that is happening right now."