MONTREAL -- Montreal police are on a mission to make the force more diverse and better reflect the population it serves, but advocates say the SPVM has a lot of work ahead to build trust with under-represented communities.

Police will soon start outreach programs in high schools to look for students who want to become police officers as part of a strategy to recruit more officers from visible minority communities.

“There's been an improvement. We used to answer questions about diversity by saying there is a lack of applicants. Now, we're reaching out to them, we're being proactive,” said Insp. Miguël Alston with the Montreal police.

Part of the reason for this push is because only eight per cent of employees on the force identify as a visible minority, even though they make up one third (33 per cent) of the Montreal population. Approximately 13 per cent of employees identify as ethnic minorities and just one per cent are Indigenous.

The police are also hoping to recruit more women as around 34 per cent of employees are female.

The head of the public security commission looking into the force said those levels are not even close to where they should be.

“Over a third of our population is non-white, so we still have a way to go,” said Coun. Alex Norris. “You can't just snap your fingers and change the make up of the police force.”

Advocates say police need to be creative to attract more candidates because high profile cases involving officers build mistrust.

“Recruiting police officers in the age of George Floyd requires a much more creative solution, a much more innovative approach to rebuild the feeling the police are there to protect you and not to harm you,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations.

Montreal police found in a poll that 51 per cent of respondents in the communities in which they were trying to attract new recruits have a negative image of the police.

The hope is that the new campaign will reverse that.

-- With files from The Canadian Press.