Black police officers becoming extinct…Pittsburgh numbers continue to dwindle

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The number of African-Americans entering the Pittsburgh police force continues to drop at an alarming rate. From February 2007 to July 2008 there were only three Black officers out of 107 total officers in four classes. Despite several requests, the classes of 2009 and 2010 were not sent. According to sources there was only one Black out of 40 in the last class.

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NOBLE OFFICERS—Reverend John Welch, who is not a member of NOBLE, with Jill Rustin, Hawthorne Conley, Maurita Bryant, Lavonnie Bickerstaff, Diane Richard, Richard Stewart Jr. and Christine Williams.

The city’s public safety administrators have pledged to increase diversity through an increase in outreach efforts. However, some officers don’t see outreach as the problem. Instead they see a flawed system where hiring is subjective and at times even racist.

The Black police officers we contacted did not wish to be identified for fear of losing their jobs so we referred to the two that were willing to talk on the record as Officer 1 and Officer 2.

“The process is pretty subjective depending on who is sitting at the table deciding who’s going to be a recruit and who’s not. You have those gatekeepers for recruits to get on the job who are not qualified to be gatekeepers,” said Officer 1. “I don’t care what they say, something is obviously wrong with numbers like that. The problem is deeper than saying you’re going to go launching a new recruitment campaign.”

The officers agreed a lack of diversity on the police force is detrimental to the communities of Pittsburgh. They said it creates a cycle where African-Americans do not have a good relationship with police officers.

“It’s alright for the mayor to stand up and acknowledge there’s a problem, but until you’re committed to changing that problem it’s not going to happen. It’s a systemic problem and this will never be addressed until the whole system is dismantled,” Officer 1 said. “Until you have a police department that reflects the community there’s going to be situations like Jordan Miles.”

“I think part of it’s racism,” said Officer 2. “There’s not many of us left on the job. In the next 10 years you’re going to have practically no African-Americans on the job.”

But even as a harsh critic of the hiring system, Officer 2 admitted there are objective factors in the hiring process that could hinder more African-Americans from being recruited. Among these was the requirement that applicants must have 60 credits of completed coursework at an accredited college, university, technical or trade school.

Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant admitted this requirement can be a deterrent for some applicants. However, she said the rule has been modified to allow applicants to have 30 credits at the time of applying and 60 upon passing the test and being accepted.

“It used to be that you could have a high school diploma or a GED and come on the police force, but that changed,” Bryant said. “If you have the college credits most of our young people are looking for different careers other than law enforcement where they could earn a higher wage. I know a lot of minorities are not attracted to a career in policing. There’s a wide variety of career fields in criminal justice.”

As president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Bryant is engaged in many outreach initiatives. Officers participate in career fairs and many also speak at worship services.

“We’re not actively involved in legislation or things like that. We just go out to promote,” Bryant said. “One of the things we feel is important is to let people know there are Blacks in the law enforcement community who have some high ranking positions. We try to promote it as a good profession they can be proud of. We try to let ourselves be known as positive role models.”

Bryant said minorities sometimes lost points on account of the background check, polygraph test, and the physical test. Tamiko Stanley, the city’s equal employment opportunity officer, agreed that sometimes the lack of diversity occurs because of lower testing scores.

“Getting diversity on the list is not our problem. We had unprecedented numbers in our applications,” Stanley said. “Our problem is getting all this diversity off of the list and into the bureau. The unfortunate part is that a lot of the diversity is in the middle of the list and not the top.”

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