(WJBK) - At a time when police agencies nationwide are struggling to find qualified candidates, Michigan State Police officials say they've worked hard to improve their recruiting and selection process. MSP is now welcoming 128 new recruits who they say make up the most trooper school they've had in more than 20 years.
Several years they changed their recruiting strategy to get untapped groups of people, an effort they say has paid off.
"Looking back through the ranks of the Michigan State Police, we recognized that we did not have enough diversity within our organization," said Capt. Monica Yesh admits. "In this recruit school we started with 134 recruits and we have 25 females."
Anna Humes, 22, of Ann Arbor, is fresh off college graduation and a life-changing internship with MSP.
"I think we have to prove ourselves and show we are just as tough as the guys," she said. "Some of them are taller but I think some of us are stronger."
This is week two of 28 for Humes and the rest of the anxious recruits. MSP says 38 percent of them are considered diverse based on race and gender.
"I don't think there should be any different expectation in how you treat someone based on anything," Humes said.
"It's kind of a collaborated effort with many of those in the community that we just didn't have that contact with in the past," Yesh said.
Capt. Yesh says her recruitment team has worked hard to engage underrepresented, minority groups. It means building relationships with community leaders in urban areas and finding ways to appeal to women.
"Diversity isn't just about color of skin," she said. "It's not just about your gender, it can be some many things and you can bring so much to the table."
Yesh says they come from all walks of life - a former attorneys, a shoe salesmen and recruits who aren't even from Michigan. MSP streamlined the screening process to widen the scope of candidates.
"One of my professors was a retired state trooper," said Laquan Smith, a recruit. "We actually made a bet about a football game that if I didn't get too many yards I would have to do a ride along with him. And ever since that day, I fell in love with it."
Yesh is retiring after 31 years with the department this month. She sees MSP continuing the diversity recruitment push and thinks the future is to actually start in schools.
"Our youth need to know law enforcement is a viable career for them so getting into elementary schools, getting into junior high, high school, before they formulate their opinions on what we are or what we are not," Yesh said.
These recruits got a long way to go; the attrition rate is just over 20 percent. The strong that remain will become troopers in April.
"There is 122 of us together we are all fighting the same battle," Humes said. "We all just look for the day we get that badge."