With its latest round of hires, the Fort Smith Police Department brings unprecedented diversity to its ranks.
Fort Smith police on Wednesday announced the hiring of four new police officers, all of whom have been sworn in. One of the four new hires, Areille James, is the first black woman on the force in the history of the Police Department.
James was sworn in Monday at the Sebastian County Courts Building with Garett Ford, Joseph Underwood and Jens Sorensen.
"We’re very proud to have this new officer, as well as the other three officers that were sworn in here," Fort Smith police Cpl. Anthony Rice said.
James, originally from New Orleans, moved to Fort Smith after Hurricane Katrina hit her hometown when she was 13. She said she was working a desk job at ACME Brick and decided she wanted to join the force after going on a ride-along with her police officer neighbor.
James said the impact she could potentially have on people appealed to her.
"The thing that caught me was, we went to an accident scene, and there was a lady who was caught in the back seat of the vehicle, and they had to cut her out and everything," she said. "I was like, 'This is amazing. I want to be doing this.'"
Though she knew she would be the first black female police officer at the Police Department if she was hired, James said this aspect wasn't a factor in applying. She said she's excited about the positive feedback about her decision, though.
"People who I’ve never met, people who I don’t know have just been embracing it," she said. "People already have just been walking up to me and giving me hugs and telling me 'congratulations.'"
The other new hires are excited about joining the force as well. Ford, who is one-quarter Cherokee, said he is also excited to bring racial diversity to the Police Department.
"I’m so glad to be a part of that," he said. "It’s building on to the department and making the department great.”
Ford said he is "eager for information" as he enters training at the academy.
"I love working with communities, I love the ideas of making communities safer, and I’m just excited to learn from all of these professionals to be the best police officer I can be," he said.
Underwood, who was a police officer in Heavener before applying in Fort Smith, said he joined the force because he was looking for more opportunities at a bigger police department. He said he is happy to be part of a diverse group of hires.
“It’s 21st-century law enforcement," he said. "Diversity is important, and the more we can reflect the community, I think the better we can serve the community. It’s great that the department is going in that direction.”
Sorensen said he applied for the Police Department after doing a citizens' police academy.
"It’s an array of people," he said of his group of hires.
"Any time we can mirror the community that we serve, it’s always better for the community," Rice said. "There’s more understanding, there’s a sense of trust that you see in the community, and you just build a culture of trust and transparency."
The four new hires bring the Police Department to a force of 151. Officials with the Police Department will start searching for 13 more hires this coming Monday, Rice said.
The four new hires will start their academy training this coming Monday, Rice said. He said they will then move to field training after completing the 13-week course.
Sorensen said he is excited to leave a positive impact in Fort Smith with the three other hires.
"It's going to be well-known that we’re all different, but we all came together to do one thing," Sorensen said.