Sgt. John Johnson of the Suffolk County Police Department stood outside a mosque in Bay Shore on Friday with a stack of fliers, looking for young Muslim men and women who might want to join the force.
It was part of a department effort to get the force to more closely mirror Suffolk's changing society, and that means getting more Muslims on board.
"Diversity helps us accomplish the police mission, without a doubt," Johnson said.
His boss, Lt. Robert Donohue, head of the Recruitment and Community Outreach Bureau, said the department is committed to diversity and that "we have a good relationship with minority groups."
The Bay Shore outing was particularly urgent because the deadline for applying to take the police entrance exam is March 31. The test will be in June, and is given every four years.
Applicants must be between 19 and 34 years old, and have a high school diploma or GED, along with a New York driver's license. Salaries for officers start at $42,000 a year and rise to $108,000 after five years.
Friday, Johnson found some interest at the Masjid Darul Qur'an mosque in Bay Shore, the largest mosque on Long Island. He gave away his stack of fliers, and spoke with at least a dozen young men and three young women who said they were interested in joining. He also gave fliers to men who said their sons or grandsons might be candidates.
"I like it," said Mohamed Eltahlawly, 18, a Commack resident who is a psychology student at Stony Brook University and hopes that with his November birthday he will qualify to apply. "I never had a bad encounter with the police."
Fahad Ghani, 21, a Farmingdale State College student from Deer Park, said he had already sent in his application. "I was always interested in becoming a police officer," he said. "I want to serve the community. I respect the officers. They're really nice people."
Recruitment officers also visited the Masjid Noor mosque in Huntington on Friday, and got a similar response. At both mosques they were accompanied by Nayyar Imam, the department's first Muslim chaplain.
Donohue said he did not have statistics on how many Muslims were Suffolk police officers, because the department doesn't ask officers about their religion. Still, it's safe to say there are very few if any on the force, police said.
The Muslim population on Long Island is estimated at 70,000 by community leaders.
Though Donohue said the department is committed to diversity, it hasn't always had smooth relations with all minority groups. After the hate crime death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in November 2008, critics claimed the department failed to thoroughly investigate a string of hate crimes against Latinos.
Donohue and Johnson said that with more Muslims and other minorities on the force, relations should get better -- and offer young men and women promising careers.
"It's a wonderful job and it's a great opportunity to help your community," Donohue said.