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Reno Police Department still adapting after recruiting dip in wake of pandemic, George Floyd killing

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 12:06 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Reno’s police force stood in solidarity against what happened to George Floyd in May of 2020.

“You could’ve asked anybody on this department. You just can’t do that,” said Jason Soto, Reno’s Police Chief since 2015. “You can’t do that in our field and in what we do. All of them would’ve told you that.”

The killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer set off a worldwide movement of protests against police brutality and social injustice -some of which turned into trouble in the form of riots and looting - including on the night of May 30 in downtown Reno.

“Anytime you have a big situation, no matter what it is, you have to look at it, you have to understand it, you have to look at what you did wrong and you have to perfect it,” said Soto.

Since joining the RPD in 1997, Soto says they’ve continued to preach and practice community policing, a mode of operation brought into the department by Chief Robert Bradshaw in the 70s.

A mission statement on the RPD’s website reads, “We proudly serve the public by keeping them informed about issues pertaining to law enforcement, educating them about crime prevention, and facilitating a partnership between our community and the Reno Police Department.”

Still, the police killing of George Floyd combined with those before and soon after put all law enforcement under scrutiny. Soto acknowledges a drop of “30 to 40 percent” in the following recruiting period.

“When we looked at those numbers and we saw those numbers, we said, OK, what can we do differently today to drive more people into this profession?”, recalls Soto, who notes the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the reduced interest.

Soto says the RPD prides itself on its hiring process, one which has seen changes throughout recent years, including altering or eliminating certain criteria, such as an outdated grip strength test that was disproportionately disqualifying female candidates.

In the last year, the department updated policy language around ‘Duty to Intervene’ and has went through multiple training sessions centered around the issues being discussed nationwide. Soto adds they also adopted a new restraint - The Wrap - to safely subdue combative subjects. They have also increased outreach efforts to the region’s minority as well as female population.

But while Soto still calls the decision to join the force the best of his life, he is also not naive to the current climate and attitude toward law enforcement. He also notes the microscope on police could dissuade some from joining the force, especially with competitive jobs continuing to arise in Northern Nevada.

“If I’m a young 21-year-old man or woman looking to get into the policing profession, I’d be ignoring something if I didn’t look at - if I get into this profession, where I’ll be putting on a vest every single day and going out there and maybe putting my life on the line, is that as alluring as taking a job that pays just as much or maybe a little more where I don’t get the critique our profession gets?”, said Soto. “Yes, that’s certainly a possibility.”

In 2020, Reno’s police saw lower interest, but Soto says those numbers are beginning to turn around in 2021. The RPD is now doing recruiting cycles twice a year instead of once, though the Chief says the work is just beginning on building what he says should be a “police force that reflects our community.”

“Our profession is challenging. It’s a challenging time in our profession. A lot of people like that challenge,” said Soto, who says he hopes the next generation of officers will continue to bring fresh perspective and experience. “Yes, we certainly took a hit in terms of how intriguing is this profession and we did see a dip in our numbers. But they’re starting to go back up.”

As for where we are a year after the boiling point that was the murder of George Floyd, Soto believes his department’s longstanding commitment to being community-oriented and approachable allowed them to whether the storm while also making necessary and needed adjustments.

“Where are we a year later?” Soto asked. “As a profession within this community, I think our relationship with that community has gotten even stronger.”

To learn more about what it takes to become a member of the Reno Police Department, head to www.renopd.com/Recruit.

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