"You gonna apply?" Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. says.

We're in his office at the Providence Public Safety Complex and he's talking about the department's current recruiting drive — its first since 2010. And though I meet the initial requirements — I'm over 21, possessing a high school diploma, felony-free record, valid driver's license, and what I deem to be "good moral character and the highest personal integrity" — I politely decline. I'm here to talk about the recruiting drive and other police issues, not to sign up.

But by the time of our interview, more than 1800 people (not all necessarily Rhode Islanders) had taken up the chief's offer, swarming the Providence Career & Technical Academy gymnasium in athletic shorts and white tucked-in T-shirts on weekend mornings to huff around the track in timed 1.5-mile and 300-yard runs, then hit the deck for pushups and sit-ups. If they make it through this first physical assessment, then it's on to a written exam, background check, oral interview, psychological and medical evaluation, drug screening, and the chance to enroll in the PPD's 24-week academy. (Sample courses include "HAZMAT . . . Blood Borne Pathogens Training" and "Verbal Judo.") If they can clear all of that, they'll have a shot at what Clements calls "one of the most rewarding jobs in the professional world."

Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

ARE YOU PLEASED WITH THE CURRENT DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE FORCE? We are actively recruiting for a more diverse Providence Police department on this drive. Our numbers don't truly reflect the population and the community. We're 7 percent female and 21 percent minority [as a force right now]. We're looking to increase that percentage.

MARIJUANA WAS RECENTLY DECRIMINALIZED IN RHODE ISLAND. WHAT HAPPENS NOW IF SOMEONE IS CAUGHT IN PROVIDENCE POSSESSING A SMALL AMOUNT? It will be interesting to see how that plays out. The law is ripe for many test cases. But . . . I don't see any real big changes on behalf of the Providence Police Department. We enforce all crime. But I think over the years [small amounts of marijuana are] kind of lower on our radar, anyway. But certainly we will write summonses when violations occur. [And] certainly large-scale dealing of marijuana and the medical marijuana cards pose a significant issue for the police department. We've had many crimes surrounding houses where they have a grow [operation]. They're getting robbed at gunpoint. We've had shootings. We've had a homicide associated with one. It just offers a host of criminal issues for the police department.

DOES THE POLICE DEPARTMENT — OR YOU, PERSONALLY — HAVE A STAKE IN RHODE ISLAND'S DEBATE OVER GUN LAWS? We do. My opinion has been [that] the best local or federal law that could assist us is mandatory minimum [sentences]. When somebody is captured illegally possessing a firearm, they need to do jail time. I think that works. The other laws are difficult in that they're all prospective, going forward. There's so many handguns and firearms out there. So if we stop it right here, there's still 350 million firearms that we have to contend with.

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