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Photo: Clark County Sheriff's Office.

A few years ago, a black man walked into the Colorado Springs Police Department's Sand Creek substation with a message. He told a lieutenant how "racist" the department is, and that it is unfair to black people.

The lieutenant asked the man if he wanted to speak to his boss. The man said yes.

This account comes from Fletcher Howard, who recently retired as the department's first black commander. Howard walked out and the man "immediately calmed down."

This was Howard's example of how a diverse department can help defuse a situation. In turn, it can also help when officers are out in the community, patrolling and policing, he said.

The Police Department is still trying to recruit more minorities, in an effort to make the racial makeup of the department and city match up. No specific event - such as the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 - led to this movement.

It has been something the department strives for, said officer Ray Issac, who runs the department's recruiting and community relations program.

His efforts to recruit minorities include attending cultural events like the Chinese New Year festival, a Cinco de Mayo celebration and an African American leadership conference at Colorado College, as well as placing ads in publications geared toward women, minorities and college students.

Out of the department's 510 officers, more than 81 percent are white, according to data provided by Lt. Catherine Buckley, a police spokeswoman. That leaves 93 minorities on the job - including 25 blacks, 52 Hispanics, 13 Asians and three Native Americans. Two Hispanics are commanders with no other minorities at the department's third-highest rank. There are five white commanders.

Other high-ranking minorities include one black lieutenant, two Hispanic lieutenants and one Asian lieutenant.

"The department has always strive to diversify the force," said Issac, who's in his second year as the program director, and 22nd on the force. In his time as a recruiter, Issac said he's learned one crucial thing: Though it's important to recruit minorities and women, he can't convince everyone to become a cop. It's their choice, he said.

"Regardless of race, we want people who are already want to be cops."

More than 1,300 people applied for the department's police academy in October, Issac said. About 300 didn't qualify. Of those who applied, there were 881 white,s 258 Hispanics, 126 blacks and 42 Asians.

About 20 percent were women.

According to Issac, the racial makeup for the department and city is almost equal for every race except for Hispanics. In that category, 16 percent of the population and 11 percent of the officers are Hispanic, Issac said, citing the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the police department.

Only 13 percent of the department's officers are female, while about half of the city's population is female, Issac said.

"We are focused on representing our community," Issac said, "but our main goal is to hire the best qualified. It has to be about who wants to serve. It can't be a numbers game."

A month ago, an era ended with Howard's retirement and his stories of being a black police officer.

He understands the importance of minorities on the force. He understands that he left an impact, saying that his high-ranking position "gave a lot of people hope that they didn't have to be a patrol officer for the rest of their career. It gave people hope and aspiration that they can be commander one day or another black officer can."

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Editorial assistant

Chhun Sun is the editorial assistant of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers. A Thailand-born Cambodian-American, he joined The Gazette's staff in April 2015 — covering everything from public safety to sports and outdoors to local/state politics.

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