COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is ramping up its new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Recruitment Unit, formed as a way to attract diverse applicants to the department at a time when the office’s numbers are not reflective of the community it serves.

The new DEI Recruitment Unit of the sheriff’s office has a goal of increasing diversity among its ranks by 25%. It also wants to make sure that anyone who’s interested in becoming a deputy has support all along the way.

“We would like to reflect the community we serve,” said sheriff’s Maj. Levente Berry, a member of the DEI unit. “It’s very important for us to bring it in now because we don’t want to get behind too far.”

As one of the deputies in charge of the unit, he realizes there is work to be done.

“We’re about average with everyone else, but we are aiming to improve that,” Berry said.

Right now, 17% of sworn deputies in the sheriff’s office identify as a person of color; 14% of sworn deputies are women. In Franklin County, 42% of the population identifies as a person of color.

The unit’s approach to tackling the issue is why members believe it will succeed.

“Sometimes, we’re out there just to shoot hoops with the kids,” Sgt. Frank Rhodes, a DEI recruiter, said. “We go to field days and sit around and play and talk to them, to be that trust so when that 8-year-old turns 18, he doesn’t have that fear of law enforcement.”

Rhodes, who has been a deputy for 14 years, said connecting with the community is a key aspect of the DEI strategy.

“Part of it is just showing them that we’re real individuals outside of this uniform and just because we wear this uniform, we’re not different than them,” he said.

The unit also helps prospective applicants through the entire process.

“Once you say you’re interested, we will become your mentor, we will become your friend, start to finish,” Rhodes said. “So then once you graduate, as you walk across that state as a deputy sheriff, you can always say, ‘I had this sheriff’s deputy who walked me through the process from start to finish.’”

The unit said recruitment is also about being visible and accessible because you never know who is watching.

“In order for you to be us, you have to see us, so we want to be out there in the community with everybody we serve and getting with the people to improve these numbers,” Berry said.

The DEI unit expects anyone it recruits to be in this year’s November class. It encourages anyone who is eager to help others and make a difference in their community to apply online by clicking here.