TAMPA (FOX 13) - As thousands across the country take to the streets to protest the alleged mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police officers, some in the law enforcement community are encouraging people to put down the protest signs and pick up a badge.
"Don't be a part of the problem. We're hiring. Resolve some of the problems you're protesting about," said Dallas Police Chief David Brown in the wake of the shooting deaths of five officers. The suspected shooter was a man who said he was upset with white police officers for killing black men.
Tampa police officer Dennis Small, who is of African American and Puerto Rican decent, said he joined the force nearly 10 years ago because he wanted to improve relationships between police and minorities.
"I'm afforded a platform to actually stand up and be that voice for so many people who feel like they don't have one," said Officer Small. "It does me a good service to know that I can actually go out and represent my people."
Small said when he first felt a calling to become a police officer in 2006, he did not have the finance to afford enrollment into the police academy. A scholarship program offered to a select group of applicants by the Tampa Police Department made it possible for him to enroll.
Small said, however, people who are not officers can find ways to bridge the gap by working together with Tampa police in their communities.
"Go to the City of Tampa Police Department website. You'll notice we have a calendar of events, neighborhood watch meetings, community forums, instances where they can actually come out and interact with us on a personal basis," said Small.
Officials with Tampa Police said the department is always hiring. Anyone interested in joining can visit http://www.tampagov.net/police/join-tpd
For more information on community events hosted by TPD visit http://www.tampagov.net/police/programs