ACLU charges bias in police hiring

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Two days after the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police introduced their most diverse recruit class in more than a decade, the Pittsburgh ACLU announced plans to file a class action lawsuit against the Bureau for discriminatory hiring practices. According to the lawsuit, since 2001 only 3.8 percent of the Bureau’s new hires have been African-American.

“In a city with an African-American population of 26 percent, it’s unconscionable for a police force to be hiring African-Americans at a rate of three to four percent,” said Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director.

ACLULawsuit
ACLU LAWSUIT—From left: Eric Mcintosh, a representative from the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network; Witold Walczak, ACLU-PA legal director; James Foster, plaintiff; and Tim Stevens, Black Political Empowerment Project chairman. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

According to a Right to Know Law request filed by the ACLU, of the 368 officers hired by the Bureau since 2001, only 14 were Black. The lawsuit alleges a longstanding pattern and practice of racial discrimination in the screening and hiring for entry-level police officer positions.

While city officials have labeled the latest class the most diverse in over a decade, with five minorities, two of which are Black, it is not the most diverse class for African-Americans. There were two African-Americans recruits in 2005 and in the recruit class before, from December 2001 to May 2002, there were four.

Of the current eligibility list with 108 African-Americans, eight Black candidates were processed for consideration. Of those eight, two were disqualified and four were passed over by the police chief’s selection committee.

“Progress is a slow process and it’s something we’re learning,” said Tamiko Stanley, assistant director and equal employment opportunity officer, Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission. “Before it was all about getting people interested. Now we’re at the point of making sure our diverse talent is at the top of the list.”

But, according to the ACLU’s lawsuit, one of their plaintiffs, James Foster, was ranked third on the eligibility list in 2011 and never hired. The college graduate with a history of working in mental health was passed over during the selection process for at least 32 White applicants who were ranked lower than him on the list.

“I feel that being a Pittsburgh police officer is a great accomplishment, to give back to the community,” said Foster who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice. “I’ve grown up in the inner city. I pretty much know all the urban areas and I would like to show other minority children that the relationship between the police and the community can be strengthened. There can be a change and I definitely want to be part of that change.”

Foster and fellow plaintiff Mike Sharp, who was ranked eleventh were two of the 91 African-Americans who made it onto the 2011 eligibility list. Two African-Americans were hired from that list.

Moving forward Stanley said she plans to focus on preparing candidates for the fitness portion of the exam. According to data from July, six African-Americans failed the fitness exam.

“(We’ve been) successful at changing views in minority communities. (Have we been) successful at achieving our goals? Absolutely not. We have to get people all the way through to the end,” Stanley said. “We’re staying committed to this and we’re going to continue to examine the process and make adjustments where we have the authority to do this so that the outcome is diversity in the workforce.”

While the ACLU and other leaders in the Black community are holding the Bureau wholly responsible for the low number of Black police officers, Pittsburgh NAACP President M. Gayle Moss said the key is getting more African-Americans to apply. She said the Bureau should target youth in their outreach efforts by creating a program similar to the military’s ROTC program in the schools.

“This seems to be the way it goes all of the time. It’s not a new thing. We need a different perception in the African-America community so Black people would want to apply because right now in my opinion Black people don’t feel the police are their friends,” Moss said.

While Moss mostly attributed the lack of African-Americans to disinterest and rigorous selection criteria, such as the college credit requirement, she was curious about accuracy in the testing process.

“The other thing we have to see is how honest this testing is. Who’s being held accountable? If they’re really interested in getting more African-American, maybe they should look into what’s happening,” Moss said. “I’m not going to say they’re being dishonest, but it just seems odd that a few do make it far and get through it and then they aren’t qualified.”

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