From Howard U. to Elgin: Police internship welcomes students from historically Black colleges

Ayiana Newcombe won't have to look far for a job when she graduates from Howard University in a couple of years. A recent internship with the Elgin Police Department made a big impression on her.

And she made an impression on Chief Ana Lalley.

"I tried to recruit her the first day," Lalley said.

Newcombe was part of an internship program created by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based law enforcement organization. Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler said the goal of the program is to open up students from historically Black colleges and universities to the possibility of a career in policing.

"We thought if we could give students who might not even think they would ever want to work in policing exposure to a police department, they may see policing in a different way," Wexler said.

It had that effect on Newcombe, a criminology major originally from Chicago, who had planned on going to law school and becoming a criminal defense attorney as well as working with incarcerated juveniles.

"Now what's in the front of my mind is being a community outreach specialist, or maybe becoming an officer and going into ROPE (Resident Officer Program)," she said. "I just love the community-based outreach that comes with being in a department like this."

Newcombe chose Elgin because her family recently moved to Hoffman Estates. She said she didn't know anything about the department and admits she came in expecting an entirely different environment.

"Obviously, I had my own biases where I was like, 'I'm gonna be in a white male-dominated police department,'" she said. "I just expected a certain kind of culture, and it wasn't that at all."

Newcombe said the eight-week internship included helping at community events, ROPE camp at the YMCA, SWAT training, ride-alongs, working with crime-free housing officers and working in the evidence and records rooms.

"Every single person I talked to was so open to the idea of being able to change what they do for the better and being able to introduce new ideas," she said. "And they would initiate these conversations with me, even about police brutality, bias and race and how those things have affected their jobs. Having these open and honest conversations was just eye-opening to me."

Lalley says the department frequently uses interns, but usually from local colleges. This opportunity lets them cast a wider net for recruiting.

"Her being where she's at (Howard) and being able to share a different perspective of what someone might think a police department is, hopefully, that will spread to other people who might be interested in coming into our profession," Lalley said.

Wexler said departments across the country are facing a "huge" staffing crisis, which started around 2019 and got worse after George Floyd's murder in 2020.

The program's focus on historically Black colleges reflects the greater emphasis departments have put on hiring officers who mirror their community.

"What we hope for is to give students a chance to look at something really important, like what police officers do, how they interact with the community and give them an inside, unbiased perspective," he said.

The program expanded from eight students in its first year to 30 this year. Departments have told Wexler it's been as beneficial to them as it has to the students.

Newcombe said the internship opened her eyes to careers she didn't know existed.

"I had no idea that a community outreach specialist in a police department was a thing," she said. "I didn't know about ROPE officers. I didn't know that there were so many different things you could do and the good impact that police officers can have.

"When you're a good person with a badge, you can do so much good for the people around you."

Howard University student Ayiana Newcombe, pictured during an Elgin National Night Out event, recently completed an internship with the Elgin Police Department. Courtesy of the Elgin Police Department
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