STOCKTON — Candidates for the Stockton City Council on Wednesday night all agreed on the need for more black police officers patrolling the community, and all had different approaches for increasing those numbers.

Seven City Council candidates fielded questions at a candidates’ forum hosted by the Stockton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Stockton-Tracy Chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action.

One question asked of all candidates who appeared Wednesday was how they would work to ensure more black officers are hired by the Stockton Police Department.

The question was posed after the panel noted that Measure A, approved in 2013, was aimed at providing more funds to hire additional officers.

Political newcomer Ernesto Gonzalez, who is running for the District 3 seat against incumbent Susan Lofthus and former Councilman Paul Canepa, said the city needs to educate the younger population, specifically minorities, about what it takes to be a police officer.

“We have to get our youth actively thinking about jobs as police officers at a young age,” he said. “We have to get them to understand they can be police officers if they choose. But we have to get them interested and educated about the position early on. This is also about fear and history. We have to let them know they shouldn’t be fearful of the police.”

Canepa said when the city filed for bankruptcy in 2014, not only was the department forced to lay off dozens of officers, but some voluntarily left in what he called a mass exodus.

He said the city must look at ways to retain officers once they are hired.

“Our problem is that we have officers who train here for a few years, and then leave for a better job in other departments,” he said. “We have to look at how we train officers and how we retain them before we look at how we go about hiring them. We have to get it into their minds that this is really the profession they want, and then get them to stay in the city.”

Lofthus said as a councilwoman, she is not directly involved in the hiring process but noted she is working to keep Stockton’s youth from choosing a life of crime.

“Personally, I’m working with many different corporations and companies to have after-school job programs to make sure we have someplace for our youth to go and learn what it takes to earn a living,” she said.

Stockton Planning Commissioner Sol Jobrack is seeking the District 1 seat that will be vacated by the termed-out Vice Mayor Elbert Holman this year.

He said the city should definitely have more black police officers on its force, and suggested looking at the ways other departments in the state hire minorities.

“There are several departments in the Bay Area that have a higher percentage of African-American officers than we do,” Jobrack said. “We should work with those departments to determine how they train, recruit and hire officers, not just for African-Americans, but for Asian and Hispanic officers. We have to look at our department’s background policies and procedures as well.”

His opponent, political newcomer Jemal Guillory, said if elected, he would work to eliminate a policy in the city’s charter document that gives all department heads the authority to reject any applicant they choose.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re applying for a job at the library or the Fire Department,” he said. “I’m going to challenge that charter. I’m going to say ‘this isn’t happening.’ Whoever applies, they should have fair access to that line of employment.”

Former Councilman Mark Stebbins, who is looking to unseat incumbent Christina Fugazi, said he will push to make sure every black applicant is considered for a position in the department.

“It’s important we look at our hiring process,” he said. “We need to look at our standards. What are we looking for in an officer? We need to get away from the militaristic and SWAT mentality the force has today.”

Fugazi, who hopes to secure a second term, suggested educating youth about careers as police officers through the Public Safety Academy.

“(The academy’s) job is to find local people for jobs in the community,” she said. “With our African-American community, we need to make sure they have the training and education to graduate the program, and we need to start when they’re young, and get them thinking about a career in law enforcement.”

Former Councilwoman Dyane Burgos Medina, who is running against Fugazi and Stebbins, did not attend Wednesday’s forum. Local businessman Mike Linker, who is running against Guillory and Jobrack, also did not attend.

Contact reporter Wes Bowers at (209) 546-8258, or Follow him on Twitter @WesBo26.