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The Pennsylvania State Police increased the number of minority and female members in its ranks by 34 percent in the past five years but white male officers still comprise more than 85 percent of the agency’s 4,279 members.

The state is working to increase diversity and leading the effort is Lt. Richard Nesbitt, commander of recruitment services with the Pennsylvania State Police.

He attributes the lack of females and people of color on the force to the small number of people applying for positions. Municipal police chiefs in the Valley say they are facing the same challenge.

“We’re competing against many other agencies, but we believe we have better compensation and opportunity for growth,” Nesbitt said.

The base annual salary for a Pennsylvania trooper is $63,364.

In January, 51 cadets graduated from the state police academy compared to 99 cadets who graduated in June 26, 2020, and 99 graduates from the March 7, 2020, class.

Increasing diversity among the state police ranks has been a focus of Nesbitt, a 22-year veteran of the state police, who began working in recruitment services in February.

An African American, Nesbitt said he’s been “totally accepted” in the department and is working to bring more people of color and females within the ranks.

“We need to engender the public trust so we need (officers) that look like you,” he said, of the state’s efforts to attract a broader applicant pool by advertising in publications that appeal to minorities and women, recruiting men and women who are about to be released from military service and relaxing the agency’s tattoo policy.

“As soon as the governor lifts (COVID-19) restrictions I have some recruiting trips planned,” Nesbitt said.

More women will have an opportunity to join the state police following this month’s announcement by the U.S. Justice Department that the Pennsylvania agency has agreed to change its physical fitness standards, hire 65 women who were kept out due to the old policy and pay more than $2 million into a compensation fund.

The settlement was reached seven years after a lawsuit was filed alleging that despite nearly all of the male recruits passing the physical test, about 30 percent of women failed.

The Pennsylvania state police is currently offering open testing through June 30 to anyone interested in a job. For more information, visit www.patrooper.com.

As of April 5, 13.49 percent of all cadets, troopers and ranking officers in the state police were women or people of color. Of 1,201 ranking officers — corporals to majors — 144, or 11.99%, were women or people of color.

Contact Marcia Moore at mmoore@dailyitem.com

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