Community input is helping to reshape the Syracuse Police Department. Reflecting on this past year in his State of the City speech, Mayor Ben Walsh said there were times of “boiling passion, anger, and even tears."
A new class of officers is giving the department a fresh start, including Erica Phillips, who is one of 35 new members.
"Honestly, it feels good," said Phillips. "I don’t know; I guess I've never seen myself in this a position, especially as a kid. I didn't know what I wanted to do. But as I got older and seeing all the things that people go through in the city, it just made me want to help. And here I am."
Phillips, who's Puerto Rican and African American, is just one example of multiple minority groups making up this new class of recruits.
"It's important," said Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner. "Our city wants it, our city deserves it. Diversity takes time. We feel like we're incrementally getting in diversity within the ranks, race, gender, and ethnicity."
Diverse representation is something the community has asked for in public forums this past year. Soon, new officers could be required to live in the city, fulfilling another request.
The new class was asked how that would impact their interest in the force.
"About 80 percent of them said that having a residential requirement would not impact them applying for the police department," said Buckner. "And the 20 percent or so that said it would, it was because they already had a family, already had a home, and kids in school they would not want to uproot."
Erica doesn't have a problem with it. She was born and raised in Syracuse and looks forward to serving her community.
"It honestly almost feels like duty, like I'm meant to do this, you know, serve my community. I've been here for such a long time; I've seen so many people both in and out [of] this process, actually. So I'm really proud to be a part of it," said Phillips.
Once the cadets finish the academy, they will be on the streets by the end of the summer.
The residency requirement is part of a contract agreement between the city and the PBA. It awaits approval from the Common Council.