Janesville police remain mostly white in a changing society

Share on Facebook Comments Comments Print Print
Frank Schultz
September 7, 2015

JANESVILLE—Dispatchers received two 911 hang-up calls on a recent day on the south side of town.

Both calls came from a Kellogg Avenue apartment building.

It was Roy Carrasco's patrol area.

Carrasco knocked on the door. A young woman answered.

“Is it OK if I come in, just to make sure everything's OK?”

She let him in.

“My mom's sleeping," she said.

Once inside, the soft-spoken officer glided easily into his mother tongue, Spanish, and back into English. The young woman smiled and chatted amiably.

A 5-year-old darted around the room with a guilty smile on his face. He had dialed 911.

Dad's at work, and mom also works, Carrasco explained later.

The incident was benign, “but you never know what to expect. You go in there prepared for anything,” he said.

Carrasco has seen tension drop on some calls because of who he is.

“Seeing a Hispanic drops a little bit of the barriers that are put up,” he said.

Janesville, still a mostly white city, has seen an increase in its minority populations.

Janesville's black and Latino populations more than doubled between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, with blacks now comprising 2.6 percent of the populace and Hispanics 5.4 percent.

Janesville School District data might indicate what's to come: About 76 percent of students are white, according to latest available data, with 12 percent Hispanic, 5 percent black and 5 percent of two or more races.

The overall percentage of nonwhite police officers has not kept up with the increase.

The issue of police departments' racial and ethnic mix has become a national focus in recent months after intense news coverage of the deaths of black men at the hands of white officers around the country.

Carrasco is the department's third Latino officer, but the department has never hired a black officer, something that Chief Dave Moore would like to remedy.

One problem is that applicants are few, and black candidates—as well as plenty of white candidates, Moore points out—have failed some part of the process, be it the physical test, background check or written test.

Latino applicants have been more numerous. The department hired Latino officers in 2009, 2013 and 2014.


Carrasco knows Latinos often don't call police for help, in part because they don't speak English well.

“There's a lot of crimes never reported because people won't talk to police,” he said.

But at least some of them were impressed when they met a Latino in uniform.

“I've had people tell me, 'Hey, I'm going to report stuff now,'” he said. “I tell them, if I'm available, I'll come.”

He tells them the police force has other Spanish speakers, some Latino, some not, but he says sometimes it's his appearance, not the language, that makes the difference.

Many say a more diverse department can improve police work, but Moore sees the issue as affecting everyone: “There is the issue of how welcoming the Janesville community is to persons of minority.”


Carrasco was born in California. His parents, who are American citizens, moved back to their home country of Mexico for a time. When he was 10, they moved to Illinois and then to Beloit.

He has two sisters, one a phlebotomist at Beloit Memorial Hospital and one in college.

He graduated from Beloit Memorial High School in 2007 and attended UW-Rock County for a year. He managed a Culver's for a while.

In 2009, he set his sights on a family-supporting job. He enrolled in criminal justice and business management at Blackhawk Technical College.

He had been impressed with Hispanic officers he met while growing up in Beloit.

“I saw them doing it, and I thought, 'I can do it, too,'” he said.

He applied to work in Beloit and made it to the top 20 candidates but was told there were more qualified candidates. Undeterred, he entered the police academy, and Janesville hired him before he completed the course, he said.

Now 25, Carrasco prefers Roy to his given name, Rogelio.

Carrasco is married with one child and lives in Beloit. He is considering a move to Janesville, where he can be closer to work and so he can stop at home to see his family on his breaks.

“It's something different every day. Right now, I'm still learning every day. I enjoy it,” he said.

The learning includes getting second opinions from more experienced officers, he said.

As a first responder, he has been called on to perform CPR. “Just knowing you can do that and help people, that's one of the things that drew me to it,” he said.


A UW-Whitewater professor who spent long hours in police cars for his doctoral dissertation said diversity matters, but maybe not in the way you might think.

Greg Jeffers of the UW-W Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology thought he would see problems with white officers patrolling a high-crime, largely black area in a large Midwestern city.

He got to ride with 16 mostly white officers for 13 months. He agreed not to name the city.

The white officers were not raised in urban areas. A common view is that such officers are consciously or unconsciously biased and would act accordingly, Jeffers said.

“I expected to just document discrimination and racial profiling,” he said.

That's not what he saw.

Even when the department pushed them to increase traffic stops in high-crime areas, Jeffers saw most white officers being sensitive to the local populace.

The traffic stops were ordered based on the broken-windows theory, that cracking down on minor violations while checking for drugs, guns and warrants would help, Jeffers said.

Most officers had no interest in writing tickets unless the drivers were disrespectful, Jeffers found.

“Officers would say things like, 'I'm not going to take $150 off some lady's table when she can't afford it and has four kids to feed,'” he said. “They did not see their job as economically punishing a bunch of black people in this poor community.”

Some rookie cops did increase their ticket production, but veteran officers and even some rookies said those were bad officers, Jeffers said.

“I'm all for getting rid of disparities and discrimination, but it's tricky. We live in a complicated world,” Jeffers said.

Studies have shown no difference in the quality of work by a white officer versus a black officer, Jeffers said. But he believes diversity does matter.

First, Jeffers believes public agencies should reflect the communities they serve.

And studies have shown white people tend to behave differently when they're in an all-white group than in a mixed group, and Jeffers said he sees that in the classes he teaches.

“People adjust their behavior depending on people around them and wind up learning different things and acting differently,” he said.

However, “I can't prove it in regards to policing,” he said.

But don't assume that an officer of one race can't work with people of all races, Jeffers said.

“I watched them do it, and I watched them do it successfully.”


Janesville police Sgt. Aaron Ellis wrote about recruiting police officers in a paper for a course at the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Command College.

Ellis found about 10 percent of applicants for Janesville police jobs in 2014 were black, Hispanic or Asian. He found similar percentages in the previous three application periods.

Only three black people out of 156 applicants applied in 2014.

Janesville, like a lot of other agencies, could benefit from changes in the recruitment process, Ellis said.

A nine-month process leads to candidates dropping out, Ellis wrote.

“Our process is cumbersome, and our agency has lost potential candidates to other agencies and the private sector,” Ellis wrote.

The department could also benefit from highlighting its cutting-edge success stories in its recruiting materials, Ellis wrote.

Not to say Janesville police have done nothing to address the problem.

Chief Moore said his department reaches out to colleges that graduate lots of minority students.

The department-sponsored Explorer post includes minority members, and hopes are that some of them might decide to take up policing as a career, Moore said.

The department has Latino and African-American advisory committees. Ellis writes that these committees could be better used to identify potential candidates.

Starting pay could be a local issue. Ellis surveyed others in his class and found Janesville on the low end.

Janesville's starting annual pay was $6,347 lower than Oshkosh and $4,753 less than West Allis.


Ellis says applicants are down nationwide, perhaps in reaction to increased news attention to police misconduct and police being killed on the job.

Ellis notes Madison recently began a billboard recruitment campaign trying to get people to make a career change.

That has worked in the past, Ellis said, noting a Madison high school teacher he knows who was recruited and who switched to wearing police blue.

“If that works for (Madison), I can see that working as a model for the state,” Ellis said.

A group of Janesville residents has been discussing a different approach. Chief Moore said they want to fund scholarships for local students who want to go into law enforcement, much like the existing privately funded program that pays scholarships for local minority members who want to be teachers.

The group is not ready to go public, Moore said, and of course, raising the money is a major consideration.

Moore said he can't simply guarantee someone a job, but he hopes the group will be able to put young people in a position to be competitive.

“As we increase our outreach to the Fourth Ward and Look West (neighborhoods), we hope that some of the kids we're making contact with also will develop interest in a career in law enforcement,” Moore said.

Carrasco, meanwhile, is ready to have fellow black officers.

“I feel it would be nothing but a benefit for us,” he said.

Carrasco has black friends who have passed all the requirements and say they would like to work for the Janesville police.

He recalled that at the academy, there was no question about a person's race.

“We were all pepper-sprayed together,” he said. “We went through it together. You form a bond.”

Share on Facebook Comments Comments Print Print