By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (April 6, 2022) – The night Al Phillips was sworn in as Lansing’s Police Chief in June of 2021, he said one of his diversity-related goals was to start a scholarship program for Lansing students of color. On April 15, exactly 10 months after Phillips’ appointment to chief, the application window will close for the inaugural round of the Lansing Police Department’s Diversity Scholarship.
The scholarship will be awarded to a TF South senior who is interested in pursuing law enforcement as a career. The student must belong to one of the following racial groups to qualify for the scholarship: Black, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, or Pacific Islander American.
Scholarship and funding
The scholarships awarded will be one-time scholarships, with amounts ranging between $500–1000. There is potential for more than one student to be awarded a scholarship, Phillips said.
Funding for the scholarship has come from a variety of sources, including Country Financial, South Suburban Heating & Air Conditioning, and Lan-Oak Park District. Phillips said he’s raised a couple thousand dollars so far for the scholarship.
Phillips said he wanted the Lansing community be the financial supporters of the new initiative: “This is a community thing. It’s important to get the community involved. It shows our commitment in Lansing to embrace who we are, to appreciate who we are. No more exclusions.”
Scholarship requirements and selection process
In addition to the application, interested students must submit letters of recommendation and submit a 500-word essay on the topic: “Why I want to pursue a career in law enforcement and how I intend to make a difference in the lives of others.” An interview may also be required.
Phillips has formed a committee to select scholarship recipients. That committee includes representation from LPD and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 218, District 215 Superintendent Sophia Jones-Redmond, TF South Principal Jacob Gourley, Lansing-Area Chamber of Commerce representation, and Valerie McDaniels from the Human Relations Commission.
Cadet Program connection
Phillips said one way to increase interest in law enforcement, and the Lansing Police Department in particular, is by reenergizing the Cadet Program. With the last cadet leaving the program about a year ago, Phillips is excited to get some TF South students involved.
“There’s an Intro to Law Enforcement class over there that started in January,” Phillips said. “I spoke to the class, and these kids were so engaging. I planned on five minutes to tell them a little bit about some things and I stayed there the entire hour. They had question after question. … Some of them want to come and join our cadet program.”
The cadet academy acquaints young people with the details of what it takes to be a police officer. Training includes instruction on law, tactics, firing weapons, combat, and other topics, Phillips said.
“We let them get attached to our PD. And that’s where I say these are the things that get our claws in there, and get them wanting to come back to the PD,” Phillips said. “It gives us knowledge about them when they come to get hired. We want people we know. We want people that we can trust and have been a part of us, who’ve already contributed their time. … That’s why the Cadet Program is so important. That’s the future, hopefully.”
Looking at things differently
On the topic of why a scholarship for people of color is important, Phillips said he’s come to appreciate looking at police-related issues from a variety of perspectives.
“I’m almost 50 years old. I’ve lived my life as a white male. I’m trying to look at it from the perspective of a minority who’s seeing the police as an authority figure that they can relate to a little bit better,” he said. “I think if we have more of us working together, we’ll all get along better.”
When asked about the importance of police demographics reflecting those of the community, Phillips said, “I think it makes it easier, and I think it makes it easier for people to support what the department is trying to do. I think it’s important for the department to be able to relate to the community. Now, it doesn’t have to be. … Our white officers are empathetic, sympathetic, they can deal with any situation.”
“Our officers are willing to lay down their lives — white or Black — for another person who’s white or Black,” Phillips said.
With a long-term goal of one day swearing in Lansing Police officers of color who were once recipients of the Diversity Scholarship, Phillips is more immediately looking forward to awarding the department’s first-ever Diversity Scholarship for next school year.
The application is available here, and the deadline is April 15. The Lansing Police Department is located at 2710 170th Street.