Swansea Police Hire First Black Officers, Reflecting Demographic Shifts
SWANSEA — The Swansea Police Department recently swore in its first Black officers — Darrell Dunn and Jonathan Williams — which officials said is an important reflection of the increased diversity in the village.
Nonwhite residents now account for 35% of the village of 14,400 people, according to the 2020 census. Between 2010 and 2020, the Black population grew by 6 percentage points, to 23% of the population.
“We are now working very hard to diversify,” said Swansea Mayor Mike Leopold. “It’s something, quite frankly, we should have been doing years ago, but we’re doing it now.”
Police Chief Steve Johnson has similar feelings.
“It always turned out that we had some great qualified candidates on our list, and then some other community would hire them first before we brought them on,” he said.
Johnson said this time Swansea was the one luring qualified officers from other cities. Williams and Dunn worked for other departments, including those in St. Louis, Chesterfield and Ferguson.
“We love that we’re bringing experienced people here that can see the way the Swansea community is,” Johnson said, citing the new officers’ past experiences as social workers, substitute teachers, paramedics and firefighters.
For Williams, the move from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to Swansea was natural. He said he has close ties to the Swansea community, having worked at a local middle school and nursing home before moving into law enforcement.
“Most of us start this job because we like to help people and meet the citizens,” he said. The citizens are the most important part, and this is a department that is committed to working with them.”
The Swansea hirings come at a time when other local departments are struggling to recruit new officers.
“These days it’s not easy to hire new policemen because not a lot of people want to be them,” Leopold said. “We’ve been struggling to find good-quality candidates.”
Belleville recently dropped residency requirements for city employees partially to make it easier for the police department to promote internally. The St. Clair County sheriff made a similar request regarding residency, citing difficulty with recruitment.
To Johnson, Swansea’s ability to recruit new officers reflects the quality of the force’s existing officers and how the department is visible beyond arrests, such as with community events and academies. He added he’s excited to see how the expertise his new officers bring folds into the larger department.
“There’s so much more about law enforcement than simply arresting bad guys, especially in 2021,” he said. “Their mindset is about building relationships.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.