WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Officer Robert Collins works hard to clean up the crime on the city’s streets. He is a nine-year veteran of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. When he’s not patrolling the neighborhoods, he’s at the intermodal center, making sure commuters are safe.
When pressed, Collins admits he has led the police department in the number of arrests for several years.
“Being from this area, I can spot crime…and I’m good at it,” said Officer Collins.
Hesays the positives of the job include making a difference in the community, but there are challenges. Being the only African-American officer on the force often has drawbacks.
“I draw criticism from my own ethnicity. It’s hard,” Collins said. “We need more diversity here, meaning people of color, women, Spanish-speaking people, because the demographics in Wilkes-Barre are changing. It’s crucial so we can relate to people,” said Collins.
Ron Felton is the Eastern Sectional Director for the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. He explains the lack of diversity is partly because minorities aren’t getting the encouragement needed to take the civil service exam. He believes some minorities either aren’t aware of the tests or they fear failure. Felton says outreach efforts are currently underway to spread word about an upcoming exam. He says more minorities in the police department would bring positive changes to the city.
“They can contribute to the conversation, they can help expose some elements without racial profiling,” said Felton.
Mayor Tony George was once the chief of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. He also believes the lack of diversity is due in part to minorities not passing the exam.
He says he’s recently reached out to key community leaders, including members of the NAACP, to offer a course at MT. Zion Baptist Church.
“We’ll get the study guide. We’ll go over the study guide. We will get a practice test and go over the practice test,” said Mayor George.
It’s not just a race issue. Of the 83 members on the force today, there are just three women. That’s why it was so exciting for community members when one of those women – Marcella Lendacky – made history as the first female chief.
“We’re a diverse community and we should represent all people. That is my goal,” said Mayor George.
Officer Collins says when he joined the force, there were only three minorities. He says he hopes he can improve diversity by inspiring others to take the exams and apply to be an officer.
“Hopefully they will look at me and get encouraged,” said Collins.
For a link to a civil service application, click here.