Portland police Officer Deni Snajder, second from right, holds up his certificate of naturalization and a small American flag as he poses with other officers at his naturalization ceremony in South Portland on Friday. Credit: Courtesy of Portland Police Department

A Portland police officer from Serbia has become the first in recent history to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen while an active member of the department.

Deni Snajder, 28, was one of 20 people who took the oath of citizenship during a ceremony outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in South Portland on Friday, police said. His entry into the force as a non-citizen would not have been possible until recently. In 2018, Portland changed its civil service ordinance to allow non-citizens on the force.

Snajder emigrated from the southeastern European country of Serbia in 2016. He worked as a corrections officer before being hired by Portland police in December 2019.

Snajder told the Portland Press Herald that he had attempted to join the police in Serbia but was rejected. He said the most significant difference from Serbian policing he has noticed while on the Portland police force was a focus on community engagement.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark, who attended Snajder’s naturalization ceremony along with several officers and the department’s Honor Guard, said that he was proud of hiring Snajder, and lauded the positive effects of diversity in police departments.

“The Portland Police Department will seek to diversify its ranks to not only better reflect the demographics of our community, but to tap into the inherent strength that comes from diversity and collaboration itself,” Clark said in a statement.

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