BRENTWOOD - Suffolk County swore in its second-largest police class ever on Monday, and the county says it’s the most diverse class in more than a decade.
Nearly one in 5 of the new recruits are Hispanic, the largest percentage of any class in Suffolk history. Officials hope that will help improve the sometimes-tense relations between police and minority communities.
Rosa Gonzalez, a 25-year-old in the Air Force Reserves, was among those who were sworn in. "I think nowadays with all the things going on with police officers, people are afraid. They don't want anything to do with us, and I would like to change that aspect and that way of thinking," she says.
News 12 spoke with residents in Brentwood, where tensions are high following the recent brutal killings of two teenaged girls. Gang violence is suspected in the deaths. Neighbors said they welcome the idea of more minorities on the force.
Luis Valenzuela, of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, says more minority officers are a help, but says it will take much more to improve the quality of life in minority neighborhoods.
"The reaction usually is, 'We want more police, we need to get hard on crime.' But what really helps is having more resources to engage our young people in productive activities," Valenzuela says.
Meanwhile, recruits like Central Islip native Austin Phillip are proud to start their training. "I know it's difficult to get this far, but I'm glad that I made it," he says.
The recruits now begin 29 weeks of training at the Suffolk Police Academy.