New mentorship program helps people of color become Philly police officers

The goal: better community relations with fewer confrontations.

Brothers Antonio (left) and Juwan Bennett have launched a police pipeline mentorship program

Brothers Antonio (left) and Juwan Bennett have launched a police pipeline mentorship program

Courtesy Juwan Bennett
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Two Germantown brothers are building a mentorship program to help more people of color become Philadelphia police officers.

The idea took root when Antonio Bennett graduated from the Philadelphia Police Academy five years ago, he was thrilled to join the force in the 35th District. People in his neighborhood? Not so much.

Bennett, a 30-year-old officer who doubles as a Germantown pastor, started his career in North Philly law enforcement surrounded by plenty of pushback from friends and family.

“A lot of African American people said, ‘You’re a black male. You’re a pastor. How could you ever join the police department?'” recalled Antonio’s younger brother, Juwan Bennett, who’s working toward his Ph.D. in criminal justice at Temple.

“And rightfully so,” Juwan added. “You do see a lot of unarmed shootings of black men in the media.”

From the brothers’ view, the solution is an infusion of people of color into the department.

Through their Germantown church, the Philly natives are recruiting young people of color to apply to Philly police gigs — and then providing guidance and support through the entire application process.

There are already four people in the Bennett mentorship pipeline so far, from the Police Academy application that opened over the summer. One is readying for the fitness test, while the others have already passed and are working on background checks and the psychological exam.

“We want to help the police department reflect the community that it’s policing,” Antonio said. “If you have a reflection of the people you’re serving, it will make for better relations in the community.”

In 2017, the city reported that a majority of Philly police employees, about 53%, are white. Meanwhile, 37% are black and only 8% are Hispanic or Latinx.

Like an SAT prep course for the PPD

The Bennetts’ program is at this point small in scale. But gradually, the brothers hope to expand to churches and religious centers around the city. They’ve already got three churches in Nicetown and South Philly to come aboard.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

When PPD apps open — which Antonio said happens roughly twice a year — he and Juwan will approach their growing network. They’ll make presentations to entire congregations on Sundays, offering free mentorship to any people of color who want to join up.

“One of the great things about convening the faith-based community, like mosques and churches, is that they’re all over different districts,” Juwan said. “What better way to enhance community relations than to tap into the networks that people already have?”

To those who are interested in PPD jobs, they’ll dish regular advice and guidance. There’s firsthand experience that Antonio has gleaned which he says will help those coming up behind him.

For example, he knows you can’t have any outstanding utility bills before you can actually become an officer. He knows you’ve got to have a driver’s license for at least three years, and you’ve got to meet certain standards for physical fitness.

Antonio said the program is a lot like college prep — but for the PPD. He hopes that over time, it’ll make a difference in diversifying the department.

“You don’t just show up and take the SATs. They’re been prepping you for a year or two,” Antonio said. “We’ll try to mentor and coach you through the process so you’re prepared.”

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